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JOHN CROME 

AND 

JOHN SELL COTMAN 

By 

LAURENCE BINYON 




LONDON 
SEELEY AND CO. LIMITED, GREAT RUSSELL STREET 

NEW VORK : THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 
1897 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 



The Potingland Oak. By J. Cn.me. 
Mousehold Hcaih, near Norwich. By 
Breaking the Clod. By J. S. Cotman. 
Fishing Boats, Moonlight. By J. S. C. 



PLATES 
Collodion o( the Rev. C. J. Steward Frsnltipicct 



ILLVSTRATIOXS IN THE TEXT 

Cmow Abbey. By J. Cronic. Collection of J. J. Colman, Eiq. 
The Cow Tower. By J. Cromc. Collection of J. J. Colman, Esq. 
Portraic ol"J. Cromc. From i Drawing by J. S. Cotmaii. British Muscutn 
Pawn. By J. Crome. Collection of J. J. Colman, Esq. . 
The Windmill. By J. Cromc. National Gallery 
Study of a Tree. Soft-ground Etching by J. Cromc 

At Scoulton. From the Etching by J. Crome . . i . 

On the Yare ai Thorpe. By J. Crome. Collection of H. G. BarwcU, Esq. 
Yarmouth Beach. By J. Crorae. Collection of J. J. Colman, Esq. 
Grove Scene. By J. Cromc. Collection of J. J. Colman, Esq. . 
Al the Back of the New Mills. By J. Cromc. Collection of J. J. Colman, Es. 
Portrait of J. S. Cotman. From a Lithograph in the possession of J. Reeve, Esq, 
Landscape Composition. By J. S. Cotman. From a Sketch in the possc!5ion of 
Basil Cornish, E»q. . ...... 

The Ccmaiir. By J. S. Cotman. Collection of J. Reeve, Esq. . 






4 LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

Durham Cathedral. By J. S. Cotman. British Museum . 

Duncombe Park. By J. S. Cotman. Collection of J. Reeve, Esq. 

Greta Bridge. By J. S. Cotman. Collection of J. Reeve, Esq. . 

Draining Mill, Lincolnshire. By J. S. Cotman. Collection of J. Reeve, Esq. 

Prior*s Entrance, Ely Cathedral. From the Etching by J. S. Cotman 

Crypt of the Abbey Church of the Holy Trinity at Caen. From the Etching by 

J. S. Cotman ....... 

The Shadowed Stream. By J. S. Cotman. Collection of J. Reeve, Esq. 

Postwick Grove. By J. S. Cotman. Collection of J. Reeve, Esq. 

Gunton Park. By J. S. Cotman. By permission of Mr. Falser . 

Chateau in Normandy. By J. S. Cotman. Collection of J. Reeve, Esq. 

Windmill. By J. S. Cotman. By permission of Mr. Falser 

The Waterfall. By J. S. Cotman. Collection of J. J. Colman, Esq. 

Fishing Boats off Yarmouth. By J. S. Cotman. Collection of J. J. Colman, Esq 

The Mishap. By J. S. Cotman. Collection of J. J. Colman, Esq. 

The Baggage Waggon. By J. S. Cotman. Collection of J. J. Colman, Esq. 

Bamborough Castle. From a soft-ground Etching by J. S. Cotman 

The Devil's Bridge. From a soft-ground Etching by J. S. Cotman 

The Wold Afloat. By J. S. Cotman. Collection of J. Reeve, Esq. 

Landscape Composition with Figures. By J. S. Cotman. Collection of J. J 

Colman, Esq. ....... 



PAGE 

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65 
69 

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77 

79 

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83 

85 

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89 

9» 
93 
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99 

lOI 



PREFACE 



^ROME and Cotmaii are the glories of the Norwich School. Unlike in 

fcmperament, in character, in the scope and aim of their art, and in the 

ircumstances of their lives, they are alike in possessing genius. Norwich 

s bred a great number of excellent painters, but these two stand high 

lOve the rest. 

What is meant by the Norwich School ? The word " school " has 
been used in several senses. It meant, first of all, the body of painters 
produced by a certain country, a certain province, or a certain town. In 
the earliest times of painting there were few migrations ; and a painter's 
work generally savoured of the soil where he was born and bred. But 
then came freer communication and interaction ; Leonardo, for example, 
coming to Milan from Florence, impressed all the Milanese painters with 
his influence ; he founded a school, the characteristics of which are de- 
rived from his dominant personality ; and Raphael did the like at Rome, 
which of itself has scarcely produced a painter. Again, in modern times, 
we have seen "schools" which had their sole unity in holding certain 
theories in common, such as the English Pre- Raphael ites. 

It is in the primary sense that we talk of the Norwich School. Im- 
pute it to what cause we will, there is no doubt that the Eastern Counties 
have been far more prolific of painters than the rest of England. The 
average excellence and number of their artists remind one of Holland, 
which in actual physical features they of course so much resemble. The 
Norwich School had no common bond of theory ; it is their Norwich 
birth and training which constitute them a distinct bodv. And if we are 
to group painters into schools at all, this is the most reasonable principle 
to build on. Race counts for much in artistic as in all kinds of pro- 
duction ; and though it is easier to be fanciful than to be just in 
discriminating between the various schools of a country, one would 
certainly expect to find great difii;rences resulting from so great a variety 
of race as exists in England. These are probably more apparent to 
foreigners than to ourselves. Of course there has always been the counter- 
acting influence of an almost all-powerful centre in London ; and Norwich 



I 



6 PREFACE 

is the only place which possessed artists of sufficient strength to create 
a rival centre. Nor would this have been possible had Crome, their chief, 
left his native city for London, like nearly every other genius of the 
provinces. 

This is a subject which has been little worked at ; and it is not 
intended to pursue it here. But as there has been some tendency of late 
to discount the claims of Norwich to include Cotman in her school, on 
the ground that he was chiefly trained in London, where also he worked 
for the last years of his life, it is well to make plain the reasonable 
grounds of his inclusion. Cotman himself, whose heart was always with 
Norwich and with Norfolk, would assuredly not have wished to be dis- 
sociated from them. 

On the other hand, it is right to recognise that Crome and Cotman 
are far more than local glories : Norwich claims them by right of birth, 
England by right of genius. Both of these ^painters, Cotman especially, 
have suflfered misconception, since much of their best work, indeed all 
Cotman's best work, is in private hands and unknown to the general 
public ; and both have been too often judged by imitations of their 
pictures. Crome's work in particular has been confused with that of his 
pupils, besides being most extensively imitated. On this account the 
writer has preferred to treat as far as possible with pictures and drawings 
that are not only authentic but attested. For help in this matter, 
as on every other point connected with the subject, he ofl^ers the most 
cordial thanks to Mr. James Reeve, Curator of the Castle Museum at 
Norwich, who, with generous kindness, placed his unique collection of 
original documents relating to the Norwich School at the writer's disposal. 
Mr. Reeve's authority on the subject, which he has made his life-long 
study, is acknowledged to be unequalled; and whatever merit this 
monograph may have as a record of facts, is due to him. 

The writer has also to acknowledge help of various kinds from Mr. 
Frederick Wedmore, Mr. Cosmo Monkhouse, Sir Reginald Palgrave, 
K.C.B., Dr. Cotman, Mr. J. L. Roget (whose History of the Old 
JVater-colour Society has so valuable a notice of Cotman), Messrs. Dowdes- 
wells, and others ; and would especially thank those who have permitted 
pictures in their possession to be reproduced in these pages. 

These illustrations will give a more adequate suggestion of Crome's 
and of Cotman's work than has been hitherto generally obtainable in 
London ; they have been made from the excellent reproductions which, 
with a number of others, the Autotype Company are about to issue in a 
portfolio illustrative of the Norwich School. 



JOHN CROME 



I. Early Tears and Apprenticeship 

John Wodderspoon, writing a memoir of Crome in 1858, lamented 
his difficulties in finding the truth, although it was not forty years since 
Crome had died, and many who knew him were still alive. It is not 
easy, in 1897, to unravel the tangle of ancedote and tradition ; but the 
amount of our information has certainly increased. 

When a man writes of the lately dead, he naturally applies to the 
dead man's friends and acquaintance ; and these out of their abundant 
recollections furnish him with stores of matter. This is often excellent 
stufFfor forming an impression of a man's mind and character. But on 
questions of actual fact, niceties of chronology, such as must, after all, 
make the anatomy of a memoir, the information thus procured is apt 
to be uncertain, contradictory, and indefinite. 

The notices of Crome's life by Dawson Turner and Wodderspoon 
are profuse of generalities, but shun dates. Dates seemed perhaps 
trivial then, now they are precious ; and for most of the few events 
in Crome's life we have to turn to the unconscious memory of parish 
registers, of diaries preserved for other reasons, of newspaper advertise- 
ments, and catalogues. 

Long ■ accepted without inquiry, on Dawson Turner's authority, the 
date of Crome's birth has been given, and is still given, in nearly all 
books of reference, as December 21, 1769. But researches made in 
the registers of St. George's Tombland at Norwich, some years ago, 
proved that he was born on December 22, 1768. 

His father was a journeyman weaver, who either kept or was a 



8 JOHN CROME 

lodger in a little public-house in the least reputable quarter of Norwich, 
the Castle Meadow on the hill beneath the castle, a part then known as 
the Castle Ditches. 

Whatever education Crome received was of the simplest sort. 
It was an ancient custom, prolonged to days within living memory, for 
the boys and girls of the city who sought a place in service, to assemble 
at early morning on the site of the old Ducal Palace, there to await 
the chance of an employer. The boy Crome, when he had reached 
the age of twelve, " went " like others " on the palace," in the phrase 
of the Norwich lads ; and attracted the notice of Dr. Rigby, who took 
him into his service as errand-boy. In Dr. Rigby's house he remained 
two years or more, playing many a prank, according to his own tales 
in after-times, and once ambitiously bleeding a patient almost to death. 
But the doctor was pleased with him. At any rate, he lent him help 
in getting himself apprenticed. 

The apprenticeship began on the first day of August 1783, and 
was for seven years. Crome's new master was Mr. Francis Whisler, 
" a Coach, House, and Sign Painter," of 41 Bethel Street. 

It is impossible not to think that this trade was the boy's own 
choice. Born painters are never slow in manifesting their predilection. 
Doubtless, to be with colours — for at first it was Crome's business 
only to grind them — was delight ; and later on, to handle brushes 
and to use them, if only on coaches and wall-panels, was a fine ambition. 

The extraordinary breadth of touch in Crome's early pictures is 
due to this training. Paint upon sign-boards and coaches has to make 
its effect at some distance ; and the result is no less manifest in Crome's 
pictures than, say, the sculptor's training in Verrocchio's. 

The seven years passed, bringing to the young apprentice a certain 
amount of familiarity with paints and brushes, and about the end of 
his time more particular gifts of fortune. The first of these was a fi-iend. 

Jlobert Ladbrooke, of the same age as Crome, had been apprenticed 
to a printer. The two met, and became close companions. They had 
a passion in common ; both were determined to be painters. According 
to Dawson Turner, the two entered into a sort of partnership for a 
time. They hired a garret, and clubbed together in buying prints to 
copy. It was in these youthful enthusiastic days that Crome would 



JOHN CROME 9 

wander off into the fields and sketch on a piece of pasteboard, with 
his colours in an oyster-shell. His first sketch in oils, we know from 
the catalogue of the exhibition of 1821, was made in 1790, the year 
in which his apprenticeship expired. 




rr,~.v Abbn. By J. Crime. ColkciUo ',/ J. J. Cc/m.?n, 
From the riprr,iuttian published bi t/-c AuHlipi C.ornpant. 

Having served his term, he still, it seems, continued to work as 
a journeyman painter for Whisler. He is known to have painted 
several signs, and one at least is still preserved at Norwich, in the 
Pockthorpe Brewery. It is the sign of the Sawyers, painted on both 



lo JOHN CROME 

sides, the sawyer standing astride of the pit, and the figure boldly and 
broadly put in, with vigorous touches. 

With such jobs as these Crome managed to save enough, we may 
suppose, to enable him to occupy his spare time with drawing and 
painting for his own pleasure, in Ladbrooke's company ; and before 
long the pair seem to have been able to get some money for their work. 
Smith and Jaggers, the Norwich print-sellers, from whom they bought 
prints when they could afFord it, noticed the young enthusiasts and 
bought some of their drawings. 

It was probably through the print-sellers that Crome and his 
sketches became known to an amateur and collector of the neighbour- 
hood, Thomas Harvey of Catton. He proved a most valuable friend. 
Harvey could give him instruction in painting : there were several 
of Harvey's pictures in Crome's collection when he died. And more, 
he had a choice collection himself, which Crome was now at liberty 
to study and to copy. Here was an inestimable privilege. Mr. 
Harvey's collection has been long dispersed, and we do not know 
what pictures it contained, except the beautiful and celebrated Cottage 
Door of Gainsborough ; and this we know Crome copied. We may 
also confidently conjecture that there were pictures by Richard Wilson ; 
and through a connection with Holland — he had married the daughter 
of a Rotterdam merchant — Mr. Harvey had collected some Dutch 
pictures, among them a Hobbema. 

Crome had no reason to complain of fortune. In finding one friend, 
he also found others. One of those to whom Harvey introduced him 
was William Beechey. 

It was while Crome was still a child, and before he had begun life 
as the doctor's errand-boy, that William Beechey, after painting and 
exhibiting portraits with some success in London, saw an opening at 
Norwich and came down there to live. According to one account, 
indeed, Beechey himself had begun as a house-painter in Norwich ; but 
this is probably a legend. The accepted story is that he was born in 
Oxfordshire and articled to a solicitor. But that he came to Norwich 
in 178 1 is certain; and there, too, he found a wife. Miss Jessup, who 
was herself a painter of miniatures. After working in Norwich for 
four or five years, Beechey returned to London, and was soon on the 



JOHN CROME 1 1 

road to prosperity, sunned by royal favour. He did not, however, lose 
touch with Norwich and his Norwich friends ; and Harvey of Catton 
was one of these. According to Beechey's account, Crome was about 
twenty when they first met. This would imply that it was in 1789. 
Probably it was a year or two later.' In Beechey's description we come 
for the first time near to the man himself. 






■ /hf 



" Cromt-, v.h'.-r, !:r-/ I '/.'..•:■!: w.-.w, rii .-,' h:r/': huL-n alxmt twenty years 
old, and wa^ ■£. v-rry av.kv.ani, uriinf'irni';'!, toutitry lad, hut irxtremeiy 
shrewd in all h:-. r'.-niiirk'i up'/i) art ; though he wanted words and terms 
to exprcbb hib iin:at:;ii;i. As often iis he came to Kiwn, he never failed 
to call ujK^n 111'--, and k* get what information I was able to give him 
upon the subjett of thai particular branch of art which he had made his 
ketch by Cotmaii Iil> dots not l<.r.k 



wA: 



J II I he p 



12 JOHN CROME 

study. His visits were frequent ; and all his time was spent in my 
painting- room when I was not particularly engaged. He improved 
so rapidly that he delighted and astonished me. He always dined and 
spent his evenings with me." 

It is evident that Crome was one of those men whose gifts are 
entirely concentrated on a single mode of expression. His genius was 
graphic, and had no need of literary acquirement and cultivation. In 
this he was like Rembrandt and like Gainsborough ; and his art gained 
rather than lost by his not having " a refined and cultivated personality.'' 
Yet there is abundant testimony that his manners were winning and 
his talk attractive. Homely in appearance, he had native wit and the 
charm of simplicity, and a droll and ready tongue. 



II. Visits to London — Marriage — First IVorks 

From Beechey's account it would appear that Crome paid not in- 
frequent visits to London. Probably Sir William, when writing, had 
a period of many years in his mind ; but it is reasonable to infer that 
his first visits were made while he was still a learner, anxious to gain 
all he could from the hints and practice of the older painter. 

At Beechey's studio he would learn the general method of painters in 
vogue, and could add the precepts of the schools to what Mr. Harvey 
had already taught him. The method of painting which we find in 
Crome's pictures is substantially the same that we find in Hogarth ; a 
method founded on the general tradition of the Dutchmen. Hogarth's 
pictures are especially good examples of this method, because his touch 
is so decisive and direct, abhorring tentative experiment. His practice 
was to cover his canvas with a tone of warm gray, choosing the precise 
character of the tone with the subject and the lighting of the particular 
picture always in view ; and on this he painted lightly and firmly, 
making use of the ground for shadows, and often leaving it in such 
places entirely untouched. The unfinished Shrimp Girl in the National 
Gallery shows this method perfectly. 

If we turn now to Mousehold Heath or The Windmill we find the 



JOHN CROME 



13 



same process employed. In the foreground the warm under-painting is 
largely utilised ; and in the sky of Mousehold Heath the beautiful trans- 
parency of the clouds is got by the under-painting showing through the cool 
and pearly colour laid above it. Of course, it is not to be assumed that 
the precise method is the same in every picture ; but the general principle 
is that described. To paint thus requires absolute decision. Fumbling 
is ruinous. And Crome's gift was such as to develop the advantages 
of this method to the full. He seems rarely to have made experiments. 



mw^ 




Portrait of J, Crome, 
From a Drazving by J, S. Cotmun^ British Museum. 



In London the young Norwich artist had more opportunities for 
seeing the art of his contemporaries than in his native town, although 
th^re were portraits there by Gainsborough, Hoppner, and Opie in St. 
Andrew's Hall ; and Norfolk was richer than most counties in fine 
collections of pictures. 

In the landscape painting of this time there was little that was 
original or stimulating. Wilson had died in 1782, Gainsborough in 
1788. The landscapes of De Loutherbourg are typical of the period. 
Nor was any bright star yet above the horizon. Barker of Bath, born 



14 JOHN CROME 

a year after Crome, was just beginning his successful career ; he first 
exhibited in 1791. But the most fashionable painters of the day were 
painters of portrait or allegory. 

Many of these artists had been, like Crome, born and bred in distant 
country towns or villages. But sooner or later they were drawn to 
London ; the attraction was irresistible. Even Gainsborough, whose 
heart was in the lanes of Suffolk, had made London his home at last. 
But Crome, in whose nature there was a curious stubbornness, an in- 
dependence which, without asserting itself in violence or rebellion, took 
its own way and followed no false ambition, seems never to have 
contemplated leaving his beloved country. He was poor, but he was 
able to live, and by continuing to paint signs was able to indulge in 
landscapes. His days were laborious, but he was not in actual want. 
Too much has been made of Crome's poverty ; and too much import- 
ance attached to the stories told by Dawson Turner of the strange shifts 
to which he was put for brushes and canvas. 

Crome, doubtless, refused no job that brought him help ; he 
had no nice scruples about " debasing his Art," and took gladly what 
came, even after he had taken to teaching and was on the way to 
prosperity. 

This is proved by a bill, settled May 27, 1803, for painting a sign, 
and for gilding and lettering, for which Crome charged £2 : 14s. It is 
improbable that the work was done much before the day on which it 
was settled. 

But there is no evidence that Crome was ever in severe poverty ; and 
in 1792, at twenty-three, he was able to marry. His wife was a girl 
named Phoebe Berney — Pheby Bearney, it is spelt in the register — and 
the wedding took place at St. Mary's Coslany, on the 2nd October. 
There were reasons for hastening it. The first child, a daughter, was 
born on the 30th of the same month. 

Ladbrooke married a sister, Mary Berney, in October of the year 
following. 

Crome's days were now to become more strenuous than before. The 
first child was followed by many others ; among them, John Berney, 
distinguished afterwards as a painter, who was born in 1794. 

In 1793 Crome was ill in the Norwich Hospital, once in the spring, 



JOHN CROME 15 

and again in the autumn. Beyond this there is nothing to record 
except the births of successive children, till we reach the end of the 
century. 

With a young family rising fast around him, Crome had a hard 
struggle. But he had will and courage, and while supporting himself 
and his children, was gradually acquiring mastery in painting. He was 




Dawn. By J. Cromt. CoUtctkn of J. J. Cslman, Esq. 
Fr»m the refraducthn fublishii iy the Autstype Company. 

also beginning to give lessons. Some of the pictures of these first years 
were " compositions in the style of Richard Wilson"; for two pictures, 
so described, painted in 1796 and 1798, were in the exhibition of Crome 's 
works held after his death in 1821. Where are these pictures now? 
Probably most pass under Wilson's name. At any rate, they are not 
often met with. There is, however, at the British Museum a drawing 
by Crome which must date from this or a still earlier period. It is an 



1 6 JOHN CROME 

Italian scene, with a low waterfall in the middle distance, mountains 
beyond, and figures under trees in the foreground. It is in black chalk 
on gray paper, and so much in Wilson's manner that it must often be 
attributed, by those who see it, to Wilson himself. But the drawing was 
presented by Mr. Carpenter, once Keeper of the Prints and Drawings ; 
and not only was he a connoisseur of wide knowledge, but he was 
acquainted with George Vincent, Crome's pupil, and indeed gave Vincent 
the commission for his masterpiece, Greenwich Hospital. It is certain, 
therefore, that there were reasons for attributing the drawing to Crome ; it 
may be that it came from Crome himself. And with all its general 
likeness to Wilson, the drawing shows the trace of a robuster handling, 
of a hand not quite at home in the artificiality of the scene. We shall 
be safe, I think, in assuming this to be a very early drawing of Crome's 
after Wilson. 

It seems clear, in any case, that Richard Wilson was the master and 
model 6( Crome's youth. We shall see, later on, how this influence 
persisted to his maturity. 



III. Crome begins Teaching — The Norwich Society founded 

The Norwich Directory for 1801 gives the address of 17 Gildengate 
Street as that of " John Crome, drawing master." 

This is not, however, the first evidence we have that Crome had 
begun to make teaching a profession. Among the families in the neigh- 
bourhood of Norwich to which Mr. Harvey had introduced Crome, was 
that of the Gurneys of Earlham. It was Harvey, no doubt, who 
suggested to Crome that he should better his position by teaching, and 
John Gurney was apparently the first to engage his services. In the 
diary of Richenda Gurney ^ there occurs the following entry : — 

^^Jan. 17, 1798. — I had a good drawing morning, but in the course 
of it gave way to passion with both Crome and Betsy — Crome because he 

^ This and the following extracts arc from The Gurneys of Earlham^ by Augustus 
J. C. Hare. 



JOHN CROME 



17 



would attend to Betsy and not to me, and Betsy because she was so 
provoking." 

In the summer of 1 802 John Gurney took his six unmarried daughters, 
his son Samuel, and a friend, Kowell Buxton, on a tour to the Lakes, and 
Crome accompanied them. The party went by way of Matlock ; and 
there Crome made sketches from which he afterwards painted pictures. 
From Ambleside Hannah Gurney wrote to Elizabeth Fry : — 

" JmbUside, 1802.— To-day we could not get out till rather late on 
account of the weather, which none of us minded, as we were all busily 
employed in drawing, Kitty reading to us. Chenda, Cilia, and Mr. Crome 
were comfortably seated in a romantic little summer-house, painting a 
beautiful waterfall." 

Towards the end of August, Crome left for home ; the Gurneys 
returning later in a leisurely tour. He made himself a pleasant com- 
[panion. "We were very sorry to part with Mr. Crome," writes Rachel 
; Gurney in her diary at Patterdaie, under the date of August 28. 

This pleasant excursion was the first of several, which enabled Crome 
to see a good deal of England. Before 1805 he was on the Wye, where 
he painted Goodrich Castle, and Chepstow, and Tintern Abbey. And 
before 1806 he was at Weymouth. 

In the summer of 1 806 he was again wich the Gurneys at Ambleside. 
But before this, in 1 803, an important event took place. The Norwich 
Society of Artists was founded. 

Crome by this time had become something ot a personage in the city, 
and with Ladbrooke formed the centre of a little knot of artists. As the 
friend of Beechey and of Opie, whose acquaintance he had made in 1798, 
he was to some extent in touch with what was going on in London, 
but had never exhibited a picture there. Lovers of art seemed to be 
plentiful at Norwich, and Crome and his friends set to work to make the 
city an independent centre. Thus was founded the first provincial 
school which had sprung up in England, and, until recent years, the only 
one. The Society had a very magnificent title. It called itself " The 
Norwich Society for the purpose of an inquiry into the rise, progress, 
and present state of Painting, Architecture, and Sculpture, with a view to 
point out the best methods of study, and to attain to greater perfection 
in these arts." Members were elected by ballot, and had to subscribe 



1 8 JOHN CROME 

toward the general fund. The Society met once a fortnight at seven in 
the evenmg, and studied prints and drawings together for an hour and 
a half. After this there was a discussion on a paper read by one of the 
members, who took it in turns to provide a supper of bread and cheese. 
The first meeting was held in February 1 803 " in a dingy building in 
a dingy locality called the Hole in the Wall in St. Andrew's, Norwich." ' 
W. C. Leeds was the first president ; Crome did not hold that office till 
1808. 

After two years the Society, not satisfied with academic discussion, or 
perhaps having exhausted all its theories, decided to display the fruits of 
practice in an exhibition. This was held in the large room of Sir 
Benjamin Wrench's Court, a quadrangle afterwards destroyed in i828> 
to make room for the present Corn Hall. 

To this first exhibition, consisting of 223 works, Crome contributed 
over twenty pictures and drawings. Carrow Abbey ^ which is reproduced 
at p. 9, was one of these ; it is now the property of Mr. Colnian, of 
Carrow, near Norwich. It is a picture of large size, and very important 
as showing what Crome's style at this early period was. Here, as in his 
later maturity, he seizes the essential forms, he eschews accident and 
triviality. All that remains of the ancient abbey — the great gable end 
— rises against the sky. In the broken ground before it is a hollow filled 
with water, and two figures are beside the pool. The severe ascending 
lines of the building, the disposition of the clouds, and the upright form 
of the composition, are all made to conspire towards the dignity of the 
whole. The painter has seized on everything in the colour as in the lines 
of his subject which deepens the sense of venerableness and antiquity sur- 
viving in majestic solitude. 

Another picture exhibited in this year was called Scene in Cumber- 
land, Can this be the so-called Slate-Barries of the National Gallery ? 
It is possible. At any rate this latter picture must be referred to the 
same period. There is, I believe, only internal evidence surviving for its 
authorship ; and good judges have expressed a doubt about it. But it 
seems impossible to suppose that it was not painted by Crome. The 
way in which the water in the hollows is painted, to take a characteristic 
detail, is exactly like the painting of the pool in Carrow Abbey ; and not 

1 Mr. Cosmo Monkhouse in the Dictionary of National Biography. 



JOHN CROME 



19 



Jess so, the painting of the broken ground. Moreover, the composition 
and the sentiment of the picture are precisely what one would expect from 
a man of Crome's individual temper working under the influence of 




Th Windmill. By J. Crome. K.ithnal GMry. 
From the nfroduction fuliliihd by tke Aulotyft- Company. 

Wilson. It is not quite the real Crome yet, it is not the mature and 
perfectly developed Crome, but it is the work of a master. Some eyes 
will find in it a certain baldness ; but we may say of it what Matthew 



20 JOHN CROME 

Arnold said of some of Wordsworth's poetry : " It is bald, as the 
mountain-tops are bald, with a baldness that is full of grandeur." 

The same manner of painting, and just the same coarse canvas, appear 
in a picture painted probably in this year, 1805, and exhibited in 1806. 
Like Carrow Abbey ^ it is in Mr. Colman's collection. This is the Cow 
Tower on the Swannery Meadow^ an old tower on the Yare, still standing. 
The composition will be seen from the reproduction (p. 11) ; but 
otherwise an inadequate impression of the painting is conveyed. The 
colouring is a sober harmony, and in the painting of the old, discoloured 
bricks of the tower itself there is delightful work. But the whole im- 
pression is decidedly an impression of austerity. Here, even more than 
in Carrow Abbey, we get the essential Crome of this earlier period. It 
is absolutely original. In certain passages, especially the sandy road and 
slope at the right, something akin to the manner of Velazquez seems 
suggested. But one can think of no one else as inspiring any portion of 
it. Again we notice the same lightness of handling, the same extra- 
ordinary combination of breadth and precision, which throughout dis- 
tinguishes Crome's work, and from which one derives a pleasure similar 
to that given by pregnant and happy epithets in a writer. All is sane, 
large, simple. 

Crome had already found himself Yet he still continued at times to 
exercise his brush in the manner of his favourites, Gainsborough and 
Wilson. Probably such exercises were more profitable than pictures like 
the Cow Tower ^ which one could never imagine to be popular. 

A Composition in the style of Wilson was painted in 1 809 ; and a 
Temple of Venus ^ after a sketch by Wilson^ was exhibited in 1 8 1 1 . But 
just now Crome seems to have had Gainsborough chiefly in his thoughts. 
With the Cow Tower in 1806 was exhibited A sketch in Gainsborough's 
manner. And Gainsborough's influence is perceptible in a large picture, 
of 1 807 presumably, which was one of Crome's early contributions to the 
Royal Academy exhibitions in 1808. He had first appeared at Somerset 
House two years before, when his name appears, once as " Crome " and 
again as " Croom," with two Landscapes from Nature. He exhibited 
also in 1807, 1809, 181 1, 18 12, 18 16, and 181 8 ; but the Blacksmith's 
Shop of 1808 was probably the most important of his contributions to 
the Royal Academy. 



JOHN CROME 

It is interesting to note that John Berney Crome appears with his 
father in the Academy catalogue of 1 8 1 1 . This was the son's first 
appearance in London, where he was to exhibit much, chiefly at Suffolk 

Street and the British Institution, before his death. Born in 1794, he 
was only about seventeen at this first appearance in London. He soon 
developed Into a prolific and skilful painter ; and several of his pictures 
have been sold and greatly admired as the work of his father. But he 
was extravagant, and grew careless in his later years, producing a great 
number of pictures, nearly all of them moonlight subjects. He would 
meet any emergency with one of these rapid and facile productions, which, 
as may be imagined, are worth little as works of art.' At the present 
time, however, John Berney was a skilful pupil of his father's and ably 
seconded him at the exhibitions. 

The Blacksmith's Shop, which was exhibited at Messrs. Agnew's last 
year, is a large and important picture, containing seven figures ; but it is 
not a very characteristic or significant work. It is the outside of the 
shop (not the inside, as some writers have assumed from the title), a 
gabled building with thatched roof, the timbers warped with age and the 
lines of its structure uneven. A man is sharpening a tool at a grindstone 
in the foreground, across which is spread a triangle of shadow, in the old 
conventional wav; other figures are at the door and within. Something 
too abruptly angular and intractable in the main lines of the composition 
mars the general effect ; but the quality of the actual painting is delightful ; 
the luminous play about the uneven smoothness of the gable wall, the 
bloom upon the rusted thatch, are painted as only Crome could paint such 
things. It is in the handling of the trees especially, which thrust their 
branches up behind the roof, that one feels a reminiscence of Gains- 
borough. 



moonlight : 



n the Picture Gallery a 



22 JOHN CROME 



IV. Influence of Hobbema — The Sale of lii 2 — Pupils 

So far, we can find no trace whatever of the influence of Hobbema, 
on whom it has often been presumed that Crome's art was founded. 
Nor is there a trace, so far, of any other Dutchman's influence. 

Hobbema was, however, one of Crome's idols during the latter part 
of his career. When did he begin to admire him ^ There was a Hobbema 
at Mr. Harvey's, but it does not appear to have been particularly studied 
by Cronie in his youth. But Hobbema and Ruysdael must assuredly 
have been in his mind when doing the etchings, which date from 1 8 1 2 
and 1 8 13. It is said that while riding about Norfolk on his daily visits 
to pupils, Crome used often to pass the fine oaks in Kimberley Park. It 
must have been also on these visits that he became acquainted with 
Hobbema in collectors' houses. It seems not unreasonable to conjecture 
that, being fascinated with the oak-trees as a subject for painting, and 
seeing how finely Hobbema had painted such subjects, he was seized with 
a desire to emulate the Dutch master. If so, it was with no ignoble 
envy ; for Hobbema was always " his dear Hobbema," whose name was 
to be upon his dying lips. But it is evident that, for the Norfolk gentry 
and amateurs, Crome was not looked upon as much more than the 
Norwich drawing -master. Even Dawson Turner, who bought his 
pictures and admired them, thought he was honouring Crome by record- 
ing that one of his pictures had been mistaken for a Van der Neer. So 
it was but natural that Crome's ambition should be touched and his pride 
stirred. He, too, would show that his oaks were worthy of being 
treasured with those of Hobbema, and his moonrises with those of Van 
der Neer. 

The oaks in Kimberley Park furnished Crome with a large picture, 
once in the Fuller-Maitland collection at Stansted, now in Mr. Orrock's 
possession. The oaks are noble trees, painted with rather less definition 
than in later years ; and everything in the composition is made use of, to 
enhance the erectness and massive strength of the sturdy trunks. 

Crome was now prospering well. His teaching brought him a fair 
income, and he was able to live in comfort and to indulge his whims. 
He had an inconvenient habit of attending auction rooms, and buying 



JOHN CROME 



43 



odd lots that took his fancy. Sometimes, as when a cartload of head- 
stones which he had bought appeared at his house, there was some 
difficulty in finding room for his purchases, and the family protested. 
It seems that these accumulations became embarrassing, and Crome deter- 
mined on a sale. The sale was advertised in the Norfolk Chronicle to 
take place in Mr. Noverre's Room at Yarmouth, Wednesday, September 
23, and two following days, 1812, But what is remarkable is, that 
neither in the advertisement nor on the catalogue is any auctioneer's 
name mentioned. The inference is, that Crome played auctioneer 
himself. 

If this is so, we may find a trace of the fact in a story told by Allan 
Cunningham,' who says that Dawson Turner suggested to Crome to have 
a sale of his pictures, and the auctioneer professing himself unable to 
describe them, Crome undertook the office himself. This unlikely tale 
is probably founded on a hearsay account of the sale of 1812. It was 
not, however, a sale of Cronie's works ; there is no picture of his in 
the catalogue. 

This catalogue of eighteen pages, well printed on fine paper, affords 
abundant evidence that Crome was a man of some means, and had taste 
and knowledge of art. " Prints, Etchings, and Original Drawings . . . 
together with curious books of prints " made up the contents of the 
"splendid collection." 

It is interesting to note what masters figured in Crome's portfolios. 
Among the drawings Raphael, Rembrandt, Murillo, Poussin, Gains- 
borough, Rowlandson, Lucas van Leyden, Goltzius, de Vlieger, van 
Goyen, Salvator Rosa, and Bassano are said to be represented ; among 
the etchings Rembrandt, Waterloo, and Canaletti ; among the painters, 
after whom Crome had engravings, were Titian, Giorgtone, Rubens, 
Raphael, Andrea del Sarto, Claude, Reynolds, Morland, Gainsborough, 
Stothard, Hogarth, Teniers, Eeckhout, and Vernet. 

With the pictures of many of these masters Crome had probably 
become acquainted in the various collections existing in Norfolk, at 
places where he visited as a teacher. 

It was in the year before the sale, in 1 8 1 1 , that his most celebrated 
pupil, James Stark, was articled to him for three years. Stark was then 

1 The CaUnel GsHtry of Pictures, 1833. 



24 JOHN CROME 

seventeen. When the three years were up he went to London and 
entered the Academy schools. 

A man of finer gift, George Vincent, who was two years younger 
than Stark, became Crome's pupil about the same time. He exhibited 
some early efforts at the Norwich exhibition in 1811 and 18 12, some of 
which were described as *' after Crome." 

These and other pupils were affectionately attached to their master, 
and he never ceased to take the liveliest interest in their work. A letter 
of his to Stark in 18 16 shows how cordial a friend he was, and how 
unpretending in his counsels ; it is as if he were writing to a companion 
of equal age and gift : he writes as a man who is still learning, still 
aspiring. 



V. Etchings — JVater-coloiirs 

Crome was one of the earliest men to revive original etching in 
England. The art which had flourished so abundantly in the seven- 
teenth century, made illustrious by Callot, Rembrandt, and Claude, had 
degenerated in the eighteenth into a mere fashion of reproducing and 
multiplying designs. 

Turner's Liber Studiorum was published before any of Crome's 
etchings were made ; but wonderful as are the preliminary etchings of 
the Liber in their powerful economy of means and seizure of essentials, 
they were not intended to be looked upon as complete in themselves, 
without the superadded mezzotint, nor are they true etcher's work. 
On the other hand, Crome preceded Wilkie and Geddes. 

The first date on any of Crome's etchings is 1809. It is a soft- 
ground etching, of the kind so fashionable at one time for reproducing, 
almost in facsimile, sketches in soft black pencil, till lithography drove 
the more uncertain and laborious method out of the field. Crome's soft- 
ground etchings, of which the illustration is a fair example, are more 
successful than the ordinary hard-ground etchings, which are, almost 
without exception, ill-bitten and ill-printed. They are lighter too in 
touch, more successful in rendering atmosphere, and show, some of them, 
a sense of wind and freshness not generally associated with Crome. 



JOHN CROME 



25 



Except two of churches, one of a dt^, and another of cattle, these are 
all landscapes ; one, a road passing through a farm, with trees and 
scattered buildings ; another a pool with dark straight firs contrasted with 
the knotted foliage of the oak ; another fallen trees across a hollow way. 
The hard-ground etchings seem to betray a different aim. They are, 




for the most part, minute and intricate studies of the growth and foliage 
of trees, chiefly oaks. Many are dated ; but there is no date on any, 
other than 18 12 or 18 13. One may conjecture that they were done 
after the soft-ground etchings ; and from a story of Dawson Turner's it 
seems that Cronie had Ruysdael's etchings^ which are all of the same 
kind of subject — in his mind as models. As far as the anatomy of trees 



26 



JOHN CROME 



is concerned, the thrust and curve of trunk and stubborn branch, Crome's 
etchings are extraordinary in their grasp. But his style seems almost to 
have deserted him ; and there is scarcely an attempt to counterfeit the 
softness of atmosphere. 

The little piece we have chosen as an example is better bitten than 
most of Crome's plates. Otherwise it has not the delicate work of the 
small v4t Hingham, a scene on the river with trees and sheds and boats, 
like Mr. Barwell's beautiful study (p. 31). This, had the acid 
succeeded, would have been a charming thing. Another plate that is 
admirable in its Dutch way, is the Bawhurgh, with its pool and willow. 
But the most Crome-like of the etchings and the finest, is the Mousehold 
Heath, the magnificent sky of which, with its great rolling clouds, was to 




At Scauhnn. Frem ihe ettHng h J. Crc 



be destroyed by Dawson Turner and Berney Crome, quite unaccountably, 
for the sake of a miserable phantasm of its former self, defaced with ruled 
lines and almost obliterated. 

Crome himself was not satisfied with his etchings and would not 
publish them, although, according to Dawson Turner, he issued a pro- 
spectus in 1 8 1 2 and got a number of subscribers. Nor does he seem to 
have done any more plates after 18 13. 

A set of thirty-one etchings was published at Norwich in 1834, 
The volume was called Norfolk Picturesque Scenery. Four years later 
seventeen of these plates were issued with a memoir by Dawson Turner, 
and a portrait, engraved, after a picture by Murphy, under the title of 
Etchings in Norfolk. There have been two issues since, but these later 
impressions are worth little. It is unfair to judge Crome by his etching. 



JOHN CROME 

which was with him a quite secondary pursuit, like his water-colours. 
These, which may be conveiiientiv mentioned here, are not often met with, 
though there have been a good many imitations of them. Mr. Reeve 
has one, a woody heath, of great delicacy and beauty. A large and rather 
damaged sketch of a hollow road with a cart, and oaks upon a bank 
beside it, is in the British Museum Print Room. It is broadly washed 
with a few colours in a large and sober style. There are one or two ] 
others at South Kensington ; two in Sir Charles Robinson's collection, 
lately at the Guildhall, are Hobbema-like sepia studies of wood and 
common. Mr. J. L. Rogct has a very spirited and delightful little 
sketch of a crowd of ships at sea. Of finer excellence, perhaps, than any 
of these is the delicate and finished Yarmoulh Beach, belonging to Sir 
Reginald Palgravc, a beautiful drawing full of air and sun, with many 
figures charmingly grouped. But the water-colours commonly seen are j 
drawing copies of little interest or importance. 



V'l. I isil /; h'rujice 



While we have been following the obscure career of a painter in % ' 
corner of England, Europe has been convulsed with war and change. 

In 1814 Napoleon, born within a few months of Crome, was at last I 
dethroned and a prisoner in Elba, The world breathed freely again ; i 
England especially there was extravagant rejoicing ; and from all parts j 
of Europe people flocked to Paris. Grimaldi was singing every night ' 
in the pantomime his famous song — 



ondon 


now is out of town j 


Who 


in England tarries ? 


^ho cai 


n bear to linger there 


Whcj: 


1 all the world's in Pa. 



Artists especially were thronging thither, for in the Louvre was 
gathered together that incomparable collection of masterpieces, the 
richest spoils of foreign galleries, which Napoleon had brought home 
from his victorious campaigns. 

Like hundreds of other Englishmen, Crome determined not to 
neglect this marvellous opportunity ; and in the early autumn, with two 



28 JOHN CROME 

« 

Norwich friends, Mr. Coppin and Mr. Freeman, he crossed the Channel 
and landed at Calais. 

Stories are told of the difficulty the three found in expressing their 
wants ; how Crome drew sketches of what he needed, and having drawn 
a boiled egg, received a salt-cellar ; how their British stomachs mutinied 
at French dishes, and how they recoiled* in dismay from the apparition 
of a French plum-pudding, made from a recipe which one of them had 
thoughtfully brought with him. 

In a letter from Paris, dated October lo, which has been preserved,^ 
Crome shows a pleasant British pride. 

Dear Wife (he writes) — After one of the most pleasant journeys of one 
hundred and seventy miles over one of the most fertile countreys I ever saw we 
arrived in the capital of France. You may imagine how everything struck us with 
surprise ; people of all nations going to and fro — Turks, Jews, etc. I shall not 
enter into yc particulars in this my letter, but suffice it to say we are all in good 
health, and in good lodgings^ — that in Paris is one great difficulty. We have been 
at St. Cloud and Versailes ; I cannot describe it on letter. We have seen three 
palaces the most magnificent in [the] world. I shall not trouble you with a long 
letter this time as the post goes out in an hour [so] that time will not allow me was 
I so disposed. This morning I am going to see the object of my journey, that is 
the Thuilleries. I am told here I shall find many English artists. Glover has 
been painting. I believe he has not been copying, but looking, and painting one 
of his own compositions.^ Pray let me know how you are going on, giving best 
respects to all friends. I believe the English may boast of having the start of 
these foreigners, but a happier race of people there cannot be. I shall make this 
journey pay. I shall be very careful how I lay out my money. I have seen some 
shops. They ask treble what they will take, so you may suppose what a set they 
are. I shall see David to-morrow, and the rest of the artists when I can find time. 
I write this before I know what I am going about at yc Thuilleries as the post 
compels me. — I am, etc., yours till death, ' John Crome. 

One wishes that the post could have waited ; we might then have 
known something of Crome's impressions of the pictures. The friends 

^ It was quoted in full in the Eastern Daily PresSy January 13^ 1885. 

- This picture of Glover's was a composition in which he tried to combine the 
excellences of all great masters, wandering like a bee from picture to picture and sucking 
something from each. The result, which he christened The Bay of Naples^ so pleased 
Louis Will, that he ordered a medal to be struck in its honour. This was prevented 
by the return of Napoleon, who, however, also admired the picture and sent it with a 
medal to England, whither Glover had already fled. 



28 JOHN CROME 

« 

Norwich friends, Mr. Coppin and Mr. Freeman, he crossed the Channel 
and landed at Calais. 

Stories are told of the difficulty the ^three found in expressing their 
wants ; how Crome drew sketches of what he needed, and having drawn 
a boiled egg, received a salt-cellar ; how their British stomachs mutinied 
at French dishes, and how they recoiled* in dismay from the apparition 
of a French plum-pudding, made from a recipe which one of them had 
thoughtfully brought with him. 

In a letter from Paris, dated October lo, which has been preserved,^ 
Crome shows a pleasant British pride. 

Dear Wife (he writes) — After one of the most pleasant journeys of one 
hundred and seventy miles over one of the most fertile countreys I ever saw we 
arrived in the capital of France. You may imagine how everything struck us with 
surprise ; people of all nations going to and fro — Turks, Jews, etc. I shall not 
enter into y« particulars in this my letter, but suffice it to say we are all in good 
health, and in good lodgings^ — that in Paris is one great difficulty. We have been 
at St. Cloud and Versailes ; I cannot describe it on letter. We have seen three 
palaces the most magnificent in [the] world. I shall not trouble you with a long 
letter this time as the post goes out in an hour [so] that time will not allow me was 
I so disposed. This morning I am going to see the object of my journey, that is 
the Thuilleries. I am told here I shall find many English artists. Glover has 
been painting. I believe he has not been copying, but looking, and painting one 
of his own compositions.^ Pray let me know how you are going on, giving best 
respects to all friends. I believe the English may boast of having the start of 
these foreigners, but a happier race of people there cannot be. I shall make this 
journey pay. I shall be very careful how I lay out my money. I have seen some 
shops. They ask treble what they will take, so you may suppose what a set they 
are. I shall see David to-morrow, and the rest of the artists when I can find time. 
I write this before I know what I am going about at ye Thuilleries as the post 
compels me. — I am, etc., yours till death, ' John Crome. 

One wishes that the post could have waited ; we might then have 
known something of Crome's impressions of the pictures. The friends 

^ It was quoted in full in the Eastern Daily Press, January 13^ 1885. 

2 This picture of Glover's was a composition in which he tried to combine the 
excellences of all great masters, wandering like a bee from picture to picture and sucking 
something from each. The result, which he christened The Bay of Naples, so pleased 
Louis XVIII. that he ordered a medal to be struck in its honour. This was prevented 
by the return of Napoleon, who, however, also admired the picture and sent it with a 
medal to England, whither Glover had already fled. 



28 JOHN CROME 

« 

Norwich friends, Mr. Coppin and Mr. Freeman, he crossed the Channel 
and landed at Calais. 

Stories are told of the difficulty the ^three found in expressing their 
wants ; how Crome drew sketches of what he needed, and having drawn 
a boiled egg, received a salt-cellar ; how their British stomachs mutinied 
at French dishes, and how they recoiled* in dismay from the apparition 
of a French plum-pudding, made from a recipe which one of them had 
thoughtfully brought with him. 

In a letter from Paris, dated October lo, which has been preserved,^ 
Crome shows a pleasant British pride. 

Dear Wife (he writes) — After one of the most pleasant journeys of one 
hundred and seventy miles over one of the most fertile countreys I ever saw we 
arrived in the capital of France. You may imagine how everything struck us with 
surprise ; people of all nations going to and fro — Turks, Jews, etc. I shall not 
enter into ye particulars in this my letter, but suffice it to say we are all in good 
health, and in good lodgings^ — that in Paris is one great difficulty. We have been 
at St. Cloud and Versailes ; I cannot describe it on letter. We have seen three 
palaces the most magnificent in [the] world. I shall not trouble you with a long 
letter this time as the post goes out in an hour [so] that time will not allow me was 
I so disposed. This morning I am going to see the object of my journey, that is 
the Thuilleries. I am told here I shall find many English artists. Glover has 
been painting. I believe he has not been copying, but looking, and painting one 
of his own compositions.^ Pray let me know how you are going on, giving best 
respects to all friends. I believe the English may boast of having the start of 
these foreigners, but a happier race of people there cannot be. I shall make this 
journey pay. I shall be very careful how I lay out my money. I have seen some 
shops. They ask treble what they will take, so you may suppose what a set they 
are. I shall see David to-morrow, and the rest of the artists when I can find time. 
I write this before I know what I am going about at ye Thuilleries as the post 
compels me. — I am, etc., yours till death, ' John Crome. 

One wishes that the post could have waited ; we might then have 
known something of Crome's impressions of the pictures. The friends 

^ It was quoted in full in the Eastern Daily PresSy January 13^ 1885. 

2 This picture of Glover's was a composition in which he tried to combine the 
excellences of all great masters, wandering like a bee from picture to picture and sucking 
something from each. The result, which he christened The Bay of Naples^ so pleased 
Louis XVIII. that he ordered a medal to be struck in its honour. This was prevented 
by the return of Napoleon, who, however, also admired the picture and sent it with a 
medal to England, whither Glover had already fled. 



28 JOHN CROME 

« 

Norwich friends, Mr. Coppin and Mr. Freeman, he crossed the Channel 
and landed at Calais. 

Stories are told of the difficulty the three found in expressing their 
wants ; how Crome drew sketches of what he needed, and having drawn 
a boiled egg, received a salt-cellar ; how their British stomachs mutinied 
at French dishes, and how they recoiled* in dismay from the apparition 
of a French plum-pudding, made from a recipe which one of them had 
thoughtfully brought with him. 

In a letter from Paris, dated October lo, which has been preserved,^ 
Crome shows a pleasant British pride. 

Dear Wife (he writes) — After one of the most pleasant journeys of one 
hundred and seventy miles over one of the most fertile countreys I ever saw we 
arrived in the capital of France. You may imagine how everything struck us with 
surprise ; people of all nations going to and fro — Turks, Jews, etc. I shall not 
enter into y^ particulars in this my letter, but suffice it to say we are all in good 
health, and in good lodgings^ — that in Paris is one great difficulty. We have been 
at St. Cloud and Versailes ; I cannot describe it on letter. We have seen three 
palaces the most magnificent in [the] world. I shall not trouble you with a long 
letter this time as the post goes out in an hour [so] that time will not allow me was 
I so disposed. This morning I am going to see the object of my journey, that is 
the Thuilleries. I am told here I shall find many English artists. Glover has 
been painting. I believe he has not been copying, but looking, and painting one 
of his own compositions.- Pray let me know how you are going on, giving best 
respects to all friends. I believe the English may boast of having the start of 
these foreigners, but a happier race of people there cannot be. I shall make this 
journey pay. I shall be very careful how I lay out my money. I have seen some 
shops. They ask treble what they will take, so you may suppose what a set they 
are. I shall see David to-morrow, and the rest of the artists when I can find time. 
I write this before I know what I am going about at y^ Thuilleries as the post 
compels me. — I am, etc., yours till death, * John Crome. 

One wishes that the post could have waited ; we might then have 
known something of Crome*s impressions of the pictures. The friends 

^ It was quoted in full in the Eastern Daily Press^ January 13^ 1885. 

2 This picture of Glover's was a composition in which he tried to combine the 
excellences of all great masters, wandering like a bee from picture to picture and sucking 
something from each. The result, which he christened The Bay of Naples^ so pleased 
Louis XVIII. that he ordered a medal to be struck in its honour. This was prevented 
by the return of Napoleon, who, however, also admired the picture and sent it with a 
medal to England, whither Glover had already fled. 



• •• • 



• • 



• •« • 



• •• * 



JOHN CROME 29 

Freturned by way of Belgium, where Crome made the sketch for a 
picture of the Ostend river at Bruges. 



VII. P(V/«r«o/i8i4-i8i6 



From this period till his death is the most fruitful part of Crome's 
The record of these years, 1814-21, is little more than the 
numeration of works painted. Many of these cannot now be identified; 
lUt we know the dates of certain important pictures, and these are 
mough material for forming a tolerably clear conception of Crome's 
jTogress. 

While seeing the pictures in Paris, he had not been idle with his 

t^own pencil. On returning to Norwich, he painted, in 18 15, a picture 

[from a sketch he had made of the Boulevard des Italiens. The picture 

■39 now at Keswick Hall, near Norwich, with its companion, the Fish- 

\market at Boulogne, which was not painted till 1820, five years later. 

Pit will be convenient, however, to speak of the two together; for the 

F'two stand by themselves in Crome's work, difierent from anything else 

in it. They show the sensitiveness of the artist's style. Just as he 

fiwould paint foliage in one way, when he wanted to express one aspect 

its charm, its softness and cool transparency say, and in quite a 

■ent way when the stir of branches or the delicate articulation of 

leaves preoccupied him ; so now he expressed the sensation of a different 

atmosphere in a characteristic way. One feels this especially in the 

boulevard picture. A sharpness and brightness of air, such as an 

English traveller is pleasantly aware of on a first arrival in Paris, the 

very freshness of sensation brought every moment by novel sight and 

sound, with the briskness of the streets, the trees rustling, the cool blue 

of the October sky, and little clouds hastening across it, all this is 

translated on to the vivid canvas. As a composition, the picture is 

not quite fortunate; but the whole work is full of originality; the 

choice of subject was itself original. And there is much of historical 

interest too, in this representation of a boulevard of old Paris, just 

at this moment, when all the nations of Europe were gathered in 

the city. 



30 JOHN CROME 

The Boulogne is equally notable with the Boulevard des Italiens for 
the number of figures, excellently put in, which it contains. When 
Crome could paint figures so well as this, it seems strange that he 
should have allowed other hands to insert them in some of his pictures. 
No one can doubt that in these two cases figures and landscape were 
painted by the same hand ; the figures grow in their places, and one 
could not say where the landscape begins and ends. In both of these 
pictures Crome allowed himself more variety and gaiety of colour 
than elsewhere ; in the groups of fisher-folk at Boulogne there is light 
yellow, and pink and blue and red, as well as darker browns, in the 
varied dresses of the men and women. But the beauty of the Boulogne 
is chiefly the lovely, warm, afternoon light filling the sky and the open 
space of the sands with transparency, through which the line of cliff, 
broken by mast and sail, shows a hundred pearly shades of colour. On 
the land side of the clifl^ a hollow, with farm buildings above, catches 
and absorbs the peaceful glow. 

As we have noted, this picture was not actually painted till 1820. 
Going back to 18 15, we can identify another picture of that year, the 
Grove Scene near Marlingford^ engraved in the Magazine of Art for 
1882 (p. 225). It is now in the collection of Mr. Huth. 

A work of somewhat similar subject, the Lane Scene at Catton^ in 
the possession of Mrs. Gunn, belongs in all probability to the following 
year. This is a beautifial and admirable example of a certain type of 
Crome, characteristic of this mature period and of a sober strength and 
masterly style. 

Of the same period, about 18 16, or later, is the picture by which 
Crome is best known, the great Mousehold Heath of the National 
Gallery. It was done, not as a commission, but for the painter s own 
pleasure "for air and space"; and it remained in his studio till 
after his death, when it was bought by Joseph Stannard for ^i unframed. 
It had been painted on two pieces of canvas, so ill-joined, that they soon 
came apart — a fact from which arose a well-known story of its having 
been cut in two by a dealer to fetch more money. After a time the 
canvas was mended ; and the picture passed into the hands of William 
Yetts, who exhibited it at the International Exhibition of 1862, whence it 
was bought for the nation for ^400. 




■5.*; 



JOHN CROME 



33 



The cattle in the picture were inserted after Crome's death. Crome 
painted nothing more noble than Mousehold Heath. It is daring in 
its simplicity. But how subtly expressed is the dewy atmosphere 
rounding off the undulations of the heath ; how luminous the clouds ! 
Constable's clouds in the pictures on the next wall seem heavy and 
material beside them. These are of nothing but vapour, air-born, 
intangible, steeped in the soft light, and solemnising with their peaceful 
presence the wide aerial evening. 

Less wonderful, but of exceeding charm, is the little Mousehold 
Heath at South Kensington. It may well be identical with the picture 
called Boy keeping Sheep; Morning, painted in 1815, The composition 
here has sweeter lines than is usual with Crome ; it is painted with 
absolute directness; and there is a sense in it of refreshing stillness 
and soft early light, which makes it haunt the mind. 

The even course of Norwich art was disturbed for a time in 1816. 
Ladbrooke headed a secession from the original society ; and for three 
years, 1816-18, a rival exhibition was held in rooms in the Shakespeare 
Tavern on Theatre Plain. The dispute arose over the modification 
of the rules of the society. Ladbrooke was joined by Stannard and 
by Thirtle, Cotnian's brother-in-law; hut the seceders could not 
comf>ete with Crome and his following ; the movement languished 
and the exhibitions died. 

A fine example ot l.adbrooke's painting has lately been acquired 
for the National Gallery — a view of Oxford. The influence of Crome 
is seen in the foreground, where Ladbrooke has inserted teazles, but 
these are not as Crome would have painted them. There are many 
artificialities in the composition, but it is, nevertheless, a beautiful 
picture. 



VIII. Last Pictures 



The year 1818 brings us to the probable date of one of the greatest 
of Crome's creations, The Poring/and Oak. But let us first notice 
another picture, known to date from this year, the Ostend River near 
Bruges. The sketch for this had been made in 1814, as we saw. The 



34 JOHI^ CROME 

picture may be taken as the type of Crome's paintings of moonlight, in 
which he seems to have set out to surpass Aart van der Neer, as in his 
forest scenes Hobbema and Ruysdael. The moon rises bright and 
immense from the horizon, touching with delicate illumination the low 
banks of the river, the boats and buildings, while on the farther shore 
a grove of great trees fills half the picture with contrasted darkness ; not 
a black gloom, but a subtle darkness of many shades and soft recesses. 

A Scene at Poringlandy painted in 1818, occurs in the catalogue of 
the Crome exhibition of 182 1. Is this the picture now in Mr. Steward's 
possession? Probably it is. Mr. Steward's picture was exhibited at 
the British Institution in 1824, and there bore the title, Study from 
Nature : Poring land, Norfolk, which brings us nearer to the former title. 

But we have other means of arriving at a date. In the pool in the 
foreground of T/ie Poringland Oak are four figures of boys bathing. 
Three of the boys are Crome's sons, and the figures were painted in by 
Michael Sharp. Now Michael Sharp Crome, the youngest of the boys 
here represented, was born in 18 13, when Michael Sharp, after whom he 
was named, was staying in Crome's house ; and looking at the picture 
one would say that the youngest boy was about four or five years old. 
Hence we should arrive at the same date as that of the picture exhibited 
in 1 82 1, and may reasonably conclude that The Poringland Oak is that 
picture, and was therefore painted in this precise year 181 8. Assuredly, 
this is one of Crome's masterpieces. The oak, to begin with, though 
young, is a tree of nobler growth than the Dutchmen ever painted ; and 
it is portrayed with a keen sense of its majestic beauty. And behind it, 
coming through its branches and enkindling clear reflections from leaf 
and bark, and mirrored in the solemn pool beneath, how beautiful a 
light ! How richly the light clouds above catch on their soft edges the 
glory that makes luminous the serene evening sky ! To have seized the 
light so intimately, and at the same time to have painted the tree so 
firmly, with such precise apprehension of its growth, yet with so broad a 
style, and with no confusion of the delicate intercepted lights, is a 
triumph of the rarest kind. Lesser men would have been content to 
grapple with one problem only, and would perhaps have had less success 
in that than Crome in both. 

With T/ie Poringland Oak is usually associated another magnificent 



1 



portrait of a tree, The JVillow, till lately belonging to Mr. Holmes, and 
now in America. 

It has been described as looking " as if commenced and finished in a 
moment of inspiration," the workmanship " light and delicate " as in a 
Gainsborough. Those who have seen it say it is almost Crome's 
masterpiece. 

In the absence of this famous picture, we may turn to Mr, 
Harwell's On the Tare at Thorpe^ to see how beautifully Crome 
could express the willow's slender waving foliage. The picture is a 
sketch, painted with the utmost lightness but also with extraordinary 
firmness. 

Among the pictures of 1819 the Tarmoulh Beach belonging to 
Mr. Colman may conjecturally be numbered : certainly a Tarmeuth 
Beach was painted in this year. The reproduction (p. 35) will give a 
fair idea of this fine and typical but not especially notable picture. 

Of the Boulogne of i 820 I have already spoken ; but there is another 
picture of this year to be noted, the surprising Grove Scene, also in 
Mr. Colman 's collection. Surprising, because here at last we come upon 
a picture which recalls Hobbema throughout. It is said that Crome 
painted it to please his wife. One can certainly believe that he painted 
it to please some one, not himself. It is full of intricate, precise detail ; 
not in the least dry or tedious, but careful as Hobbema is careful, and 
with just that degree of breadth that Hobbema has. Or we might say 
with equal truth that it resembles a fine Stark ; for Stark, who was 
Crome's pupil, is far more faithful to Hobbema than Crome was. The 
picture is a vagary, and lies outside the line of Crome's individual 
development. But it is interesting, and, from the lateness of its date, 
extremely remarkable. 



I 
I 



IX. Crome as a Teacher — Death 



The last five years had been a busy time with Crome, for we must 
remember that, while producing these pictures, he was still practising as 
a teacher. He kept two horses and drove round the country to all the 
chief houses of the neighbourhood to give his lessons. In the evening 



38 JOHN CROME 

he would retire to his favourite tavern, where he had his arm-chair and 
presided in a company of his friends and gossips. Naturally, therefore, 
his time for painting was limited. He worked on Sundays and in his 
holidays. The number of pictures attributed to him, which is very 
great, must be some multiple of the number of those which he actually 
painted. In the year of his death an exhibition of all his finest works 
was held at Norwich. At that time few, if any, had gone out of Norfolk. 
But the number exhibited was little over a hundred. 

Of Crome as a teacher we get an interesting glimpse in the life of 
one of his pupils. Rajah Brooke of Sarawak. 

" In later life," says Dr. Jessopp,^ '* Brooke seems to have been a fair 
draughtsman. ' Old Crome ' was the drawing-master during his time at 
Norwich, and a great favourite with the boys. As a teacher he was, 
according to the tradition of the school, simply useless, and his pupils 
took a delight in decoying the old gentleman into * finishing' their 
drawings for them, which usually meant beginning a sketch and ending it 
at a sitting, for Crome, when once he took a pencil or brush into his hand> 
never could be induced to drop it, and he would work away with extra- 
ordinary rapidity, quite forgetting how time was passing. The Rev. 
Jonathan Matchett, now resident in Norwich, still possesses one of these 
' school exercises.' It is a small landscape in oils, which Crome actually 
painted during his lesson at the school, with the boys looking on at him, 
admiring his artistic skill." This identical sketch, an old cottage, is 
now in Mr. Reeve's collection. 

Another characteristic anecdote is recounted in Wodderspoon's 
memoir. A brother painter met Crome " in a remote spot of healthy 
verdure, with a troop of young persons." He expressed surprise at seeing 
him, as he thought he had left him in Norwich, engaged with his schooL 
" I am in my school," replied Crome, " and teaching my scholars from 
the only true examples. Do you think," pointing to a lovely distance, 
*' you or I can do better than that ? " 

A similar story is told by John Burnet, Wilkie's friend and engraver. 
He speaks of Crome as his " old and esteemed friend." 

There were many others to whom Crome was an esteemed friend. 

^ Quoted in T/-f Rnja of Saratvak, bv Gertrude L. Jacob. Macmillan and Co.^ 
1876. 



%• 
<« ••• * 



• -» 



• •• • 

• ••• 



I 



JOHN CROME 41 

Among these must be mentioned Samuel Paget, father of Sir James 
Paget, at whose house at Yarmouth Crome was always welcomed, and 
whose children he would amuse with fantastic sketches. Yarmouth was 
also the home of Dawson Turner, the antiquary, who had eleven piaures 
by Crome in his collection, some of which were Hthc^raphcd for his 
privately printed book. Outlines in Lithography. 

Dawson Turner, who is still better known through his friendship and 
collaboration with Cotman, had been acquainted with Crome for some 
years. Some of the etchings had been made in his house. He had not 
known Crome during his youth and early struggles, and consequently 
what he says of that time in his memoir is not very accurate. But on 
this later period his authority may be trusted. On one of his Cromes he 
makes this note : " He painted it for me but a year or two before his 
death, immediately on his return from his midsummer journey to London,' 
with his whole soul full of admiration at the effects of light and shade, 
and brilliant colour, and poetical feeling, and grandeur of conception, dis- 
played in Turner's landscapes in the Exhibition. His object in this 
small piece was to embody upon the canvas a portion of what was im- 
pressed upon his mind." This admiration for Turner shows how alive 
Crome was to new influences. What were the pictures which had so 
impressed him.' Probably the Entrance of the Meuse and Richmond 
Hill, exhibited in 18 19, and now in the National Gallery, or perhaps the 
Rome from the Vatican oi 1820. This fresh stimulus might have had 
interesting results, but it was destined that Crome should paint no more. 
In the midst of this full and happy existence, in the height of his maturity, 
the end came quite suddenly. Crome had been working hard, this 
spring of 1821, for three days. He had stretched a canvas six feet long 
for a picture of Wroxham Water Frolic, which he said was to be his 
masterpiece, but it was never finished. The next day he was seized with 
inflammation. On April 21 he was dying. 

" My father's disorder has so much gained ground," wrote Kred 
Crome on that day to Dawson Turner, "that there is not the least hope 
of him ; indeed, 1 think he is now breathing his last. At the same time, 
he is not aware of his situation ; we, of course, are obliged to appear the 
reverse of our feelings. ... It is killing to me. He is seldom easy 

ticcablc thai an annual jriurnL-y scciiis (o be implied. 



42 JOHN CROME 

unless I am by his side, holding his hand, or supporting his head. All 
are in tears about me." On the 22nd Crome was dead. 

The affection which those about him felt for him, visible enough in 
his son's letter, was equally manifest at his funeral. Carriages thronged 
the street. " Mr. Sharp and Mr. Vincent," says the Norwich Mercury y 
"came from town on purpose, and Mr. Stark was also present. An 
immense concourse of people bore grateful testimony to the estimation 
in which his character was generally held." 

In September of the same year there was a five days' sale of the 
painter's prints, books, and pictures, but none of his own works were 
included. A hundred and eleven of these, however, lent by owners in 
Norwich and the neighbourhood, were exhibited in the autumn — an 
exhibition which included nearly all his important works. 



X. Crome' s Place in the History of Art 

Dr. Richard Muther, in the one work at present existing which 
attempts to deal with modern painting as a whole, says of Crome that 
"he lived absolutely apart from the England of his time." "Norwich 
was his birthplace and his life-long residence. He did not know the 
name of Turner, he knew nothing of Wilson, he had perhaps never heard 
Gainsborough's name. His pictures are influenced neither by his con- 
temporaries nor his English forerunners. . . . Hobbema is his model, 
the art of the Netherlands his ideal." 

Even a German professor cannot be expected to know everything, 
and Dr. Muther's book is an astonishing achievement. When one con- 
siders the immense scope of its design, and the difficulties of procuring 
accurate knowledge, it would be very singular if errors were absent. 

Still, while recognising the intelligence of conception displayed in this 
history, we may be permitted to deplore that almost all of the statements 
quoted from Dr. Muther about Crome are the reverse of true. It is 
worth while drawing attention to this, because the book is now a standard 
work of reference, and because the view taken of Crome is based on 
English writers, and is the prevalent view of him at this day in 
England. 



Si 


^rl^^'n^H 


1 


'^^J^S^MBtM 


i 





5 t 

II 



JOHN CROME 



45 



It will be evident from the foregoing pages that this conception of 
Crome's art, as continuing with modifications that of Hobbema and the 
Dutchmen, has only ingredients of truth. Richard Wilson and Gains- 
borough, there can be no doubt about it, were Crome's first loves in art. 
He carries on the English tradition of landscape, bequeathed by them, 
with the infusion of a more vigorous realism of his own. It was this 
inborn tendency to realism which attracted him later to the Dutch 
masters. Crome's was not a nature to rest satisfied with the Italian 
tradition in the representation of trees, for example, handed down 
through Claude and Wilson, nor with the mannered facility of Gains- 
borough's later style. In the grave and self-suppressing art of Hobbema 
he recognised a spirit akin to his own. But in emulating the Dutch 
master he brought his already formed style to the work, and in The 
Poringland Oak was able to produce a picture which is more than equal 
to anything of Hobbema's or Ruysdael's in grasp of vital truth, while 
in the glow of inspiration it by far excels them, 

Crome, then, stands at the meeting of two traditions in landscape ; 
and it is not too much to say, that his name is greater than any which 
had made either illustrious ; above Claude, above Ruysdael, 

Since his day, landscape art, not uninfluenced by photography, which 
has opened to all men's eyes what only keen observers saw before, has 
immensely increased its "content " ; the common stock of observed and 
recorded truth is vastly greater than it was. And as a natural result, 
there have been, and are, continual revolts against the tendency to 
dulness which realism threatens ; there is even a danger for some minds 
of going to the other extreme, and prizing art which achieves a certain 
style by dint of sheer inadequacy of observation. 

In looking back to seek a classic, it is Crome we should fix upon 
rather than Constable, who, by an accident, was the means of re-creating 
French landscape, since so potent a force in modern painting. For 
Crome, with a range and knowledge not inferior to Constable, is in all 
imaginative qualities, as well as in actual power and ease of painting, his 
superior. Constable attracts us because we see him always earnestly 
wrestling with his material ; but he rarely masters it entirely. He was 
well fitted to stimulate and rouse, because he was so deliberate a 
reformer ; but we must beware lest admiration for moral courage lead us 



46 JOHN CROME 

into making all innovation an excellence. It is sometimes assumed to be 
Constables chief praise, that he chose to paint foliage at the dullest 
period of the year, the heavy green of midsummer ; simply because it 
had been avoided before his time. Constable has other claims than this. 
But even The Hay-lVain^ z noble picture, has a prosaic, flat efl^ect, when 
the mind is saturated with Mousehold Heath, 



XI. Characteristics of Cromes Art 

What was Crome's own aim in painting } We are fortunate in 
knowing, from a letter ^ to his friend and pupil James Stark, something 
of his thoughts. It was written in 1816, in the time of his maturity. 

Friend James (he writes)- I received your kind letter and feel much pleased at 
your approval of my picture. I fear you will see too many errors for a painter 
of my long practice and at my time of life ; however, there are parts in it you like, 
I have no doubt, so I am happy. ... In your letter you wish me to give you my 
opinion of your picture. I should have liked it better if you had made it more of 
a whole, that is, the trees stronger, the sky running from them in shadow up to 
the opposite corner ; that might have produced what, I think, it wanted, and have 
made it m^uch less a too picture effect. ... I cannot let your sky go off without 
some observation. I think the character of your clouds too affected, that is, too 
much of some of our modern painters, who mistake some of our great masters ; 
because they sometimes put in some of those round characters of clouds, they must 
do the same ; but if you look at any of their skies, they either assist in the com- 
position or make some figure in the picture, nay, sometimes play the first fiddle. 
. . . Breath must be attended to if you paint, but a muscle gives it breath.^ Your 
doing the same by the sky, making parts broad and of a good shape, that they 
may come in with your composition, forming one grand plan of light and shade, 
this must always please a good eye, and keep the attention of the spectator, and 
give delight to every one. Trifles in nature must be overlooked that we may have 
our feelings raised by seeing the whole picture at a glance, not knowing how or 
why we are so charmed. I have written you a long rigmarole story about giving 
dignity to whatever you paint — I fear so long that I should be scarcely able to 
understand what I mean myself. You will, I hope, take the will for the deed, and 
at the same time forgive all faults in diction, grammar, spelling, etc. 



^ In the possession of Mr. A. J. Stark, the painter's son, and printed in the memoir 
prefixed to the catalogue of the sixth exhibition of the Norwich Art Circle. 

- This, at first sight, rather cryptic sentence must be read Breadth^ as the context 
shows. 



JOHN CROME 



47 



This letter shows us that Crome did not work from a sort of 
unconscious instinct, but consciously pursued a chosen aim. And how 
excellently clear is his mind, how fine his aim ! 

Crome's devotion to breadth and dignity is admirably seen in certain 
small pictures of " still life " and of plants, made probably as studies 
for foregrounds. It helps him in the foregrounds of his large com- 
positions. In Mousehold Heath could anything be better than the 
thistles, docks, and sorrel .' They are painted with entire knowledge, 
but with superb economy of means. And it is the same with Crome's 
trees. The botanist is not at a loss to„game them ; the character of 
each is brought out and dwelt upon with loving care ; but it is not 
as a map of anatomical detail that an oak or a willow appears to Crome, 
but as a thing of life, fiill of running sap, silently but ceaselessly growing 
and changing, and not so much adorned with foliage as sentient through 
a thousand leaves. In the letter to Stark we see his hatred of the 
placid conventions which petrify and kill ; he will not tame free nature 
to a mere " picture effect." ' Hence he never paints after a formula ; 
whatever he sees is fresh to him and wonderful ; he is always alert to 
get a new impression. Seeing a tree in sunlight, he paints its branches 
all defined, its leaves all touched with light ; but when he paints a shady 
avenue, he waives all his knowledge of detail, and expresses only the 
. broad, transparent shadow, as in the Chapel Fields of the National 
i Gallery, Other painters have seen only this side of the charm of 
foliage, and have been content to^spehd ^eir lives upon it; yet none 
has better rendered it than Crome in this picture, where the hidden 
sunshine of a gray September day makes luminous twilight in the soft 
L|p%en leaves, and streaks the road beneath the stems with dreamy 
' shadows. What a pity that this composition has been marred by cattle 
and figures, added by another hand ! 

This sensitiveness, this capacity for perpetually receiving fresh im- 
pressions, is especially to be noted in Crome's treatment of light. Here 
he shows a subtlety of sight and a certainty of touch which are of the 
rarest order. In the little Rembrandt - like Daiun (p. 15) he paints 
the still, white, early glow, brightening and expanding ; in Mousehold 

' Perhaps, however, "too picture" should be read " iwo-piciure " j i.f. an clfcct 
warning unity. 



48 JOHN CROME 

Heath the evening sunshine bathes the earth and sky, and steeps the 
clouds in aerial clearness ; and the New Mills (p. 43) is a type of 
Crome's pictures of wood and water and old buildings, in which the 
mirrored light plays through the shadow, exquisitely luminous, or 
quivers from above on the dark leaves with just that effect which 
Constable is often said to Jiave first painted. The Poringland Oak seems 
to attack the most difficult problems of direct and reflected sunshine, 
and- triumphs over all. 

We have already noticed that Crome in most of his etchings seems 
to lose his style. The reason is that he had not found a means of 
representing atmosphere in black and white. And it is probable that 
any pitch of realism is compatible with good art, so long as there be 
atmosphere. The visible world never at any moment coincides with 
the tangible world ; it is the tangible world, divested of all interposing 
atmosphere, whether objective or subjective, that science and '' realistic " 
artists and novelists try to reach; but the true painter and true poet 
see things only as they are visible to human beings full of emotions, 
memories, a thousand unconsciously-stored results of experience, which 
again go out unconsciously to tinge and influence the seeing eye and the 
portraying hand. In his etchings Crome represented trees divested 
of part of what, to us, is their reality. In his paintings it was never so ; 
he painted the full life of things, but clothed in luminous air. 

In all art, one of the greatest difficulties is to grapple with life, and 
at the same time to keep one's style. To achieve style and maintain 
it, without coming to close quarters with reality, is by comparison easy ; 
but to wrestle with immense, intractable nature, and mould it to one's 
will, yet at the same time to keep inviolable the conditions of beauty, 
this it is which, in a phrase of Matthew Arnold's, " tears to pieces " 
many artists. It is Crome's glory that he triumphed in this trial. 
Very few indeed are the landscape painters who have put so much 
matter into their pictures and risen to such a dignity of manner. 



JOHN SELL COTMAN 



I. Boyhood and Early Life in London 



Far different from the life just recorded is that of John Sell Cotman. 
Crome, after the first struggles, had little to disturb his peaceful industry ; 
but Cotman rarely enjoyed peace of mind. He had to contend with 
perpetual difficulties, with tormenting apprehensions. Nothing is sadder 
than the story of his ever-renewed hopes of recognition and success, 
continually clouded ; nothing is finer than the indefatigable effort with 
which he fought against fortune, in spite of inward weariness often 
neighbouring on despair in a nature thrice more susceptible to anxiety 
from the depth and tenderness of its affections. Had he failed, had he 
gone under, there would have been far more sentiment expended over 
him. But he needs no man's pity. Hampered and beset as he was, 
he accomplished a body of work of marvellous excellence and variety. 
Had his scope matched his genius, his name would stand even higher 
than it will. 

Cotman's father was a well-to-do silk mercer and dealer in foreign 
lace, whose place of business was in Cockey Lane, Norwich. John Sell, 
his eldest son, was born in Norwich on May i6, 1782.' He was edu- 
cated at the Grammar School, and perhaps took kindlier to his books 
than many artists; but drawing was his great delight. He would wander 
out into the country sketching. His early surroundings fostered an 
inborn love of architecture and all relics of antiquity, no less than an 
ardent delight in the changing beauty of fields and skies and streams. 



Rcdg™ 



,'ed bj' oiher luthoriiii 



mgly gives ihc date as June 



50 JOHN SELL COTMAN 

Few towns in England have so much of fine old architecture as Norwich, 
so many " various splendid remains," as Cotman himself said long after- 
wards, when he had seen most of the ancient cities of England ; and he 
spoke also of its beautiful neighbourhood, " not to be equalled in its 
quiet way by any city in the British Empire, and beloved by me." 
Cotman was one of those in whom early associations strike deep root, 
and he never ceased to love Norwich and Norfolk. 

Mr. Reeve, in his incomparable collection of Cotman drawings, illus- 
trating every phase of the artist, has one Indian-ink sketch of Old Houses^ 
Mill Lane^ Newmarket Road^ which, if the date on it (1794) be correct, 
was done in Cotman's thirteenth year. It is not remarkable in itself, but 
already shows a sense of style. 

On leaving school the boy was intended for his father's business. 
But after a brief trial he rebelled ; he was bent on being a painter. 
The fether was distressed ; but, anxious to do the best for his son, sought 
the advice of Opie, who was then at Norwich. " Let him rather black 
boots than follow the profession of an artist," was Opie's bitter reply. 
But, in spite of everything, John Sell had his way ; and in 1797 or 1798 
he journeyed up to try his fortunes in London. 

Of his first experiences there we have a glimpse in a once famous, 
now almost forgotten novel, Thaddeus of Warsaw, The hero, a Polish 
noble of the house of Sobieski, exiled in London and reduced to want, 
finds " that his sole dependence must rest on his talents for painting. His 
taste easily perceived that there were many drawings exhibited for sale 
much inferior to those which he had executed for mere amusement." So 
he sets out for Great Newport Street, the great home of print-sellers, and 
entering a shop throws his drawings instantly upon the counter. His 
pride is mortified by the print-seller's disrespectful treatment of him ; he 
flings himself out of the shop and goes home. But necessity compels 
him to venture forth again, and he consents to make six drawings a week 
for a guinea. 

Sobieski's experiences are said to have been suggested by what actually 
happened to the young Cotman. Without accepting the tale literally, 
we may see in it the relations between the young artists and the print- 
sellers of the day, and may conjecture something of Cotman's sensitive 
pride, on which perhaps Jane Porter, the author of Thaddeus^ meant 



JOHN SELL COTMJN 



51 



playfully to rally him. We know, at any rate, that John Thirtle, after- 
wards Gjtman's brother-in-law, used regularly to look in Ackerman's 
window to see if there were any new drawings by his Norwich friend. 

It was not long before Cotman"s talents won him appreciation from 
his rivals, and from that famous connoisseur and patron of artists. Dr. 
Thomas Monro, Monro was now about forty years old, and had been 
since 1792 physician to Bridewell and Bethlehem Hospital. But his 






From ii Lithgriiph in th p^i. 



'tfJ.R.:-.; 



great love was for art, of which he was an enthusiastic amateur. During 
the long winter evenings his house in Adelphi l"errace became a studio 
in which a group of young men, some of whom were already becoming 
famous, copied drawings under the Doctor's encouraging supervision, 
sharing candles and receiving a supper and half-a-crown for the evening. 
Working here were the founders of English water-colour painting, chief 
among whom were Girtin and Turner. 

At this early period of his career Turner held a position secondary 
to that of Girtin. They were of equal age, but so far Girtin had shown 



52 JOHN SELL COTMAN 

himself the bolder spirit, and had gone the farther. It was Girtin who 
really enfranchised water-colour art. His drawings, broadly washed 
with a full brush on cartridge paper, displayed a richness of colouring 
and a spaciousness of style hitherto unknown. In 1796 he had spent 
the summer in the north of England, and in his painting of moor and 
fell and cloud there was an imaginative apprehension of the beauty of 
solemn and solitary places, not less rare and noble in its way than the 
kindred poetry of Wordsworth. 

On all the youthful painters who gathered at Adelphi Terrace in 
the winter evenings, or who rambled through England on sketching 
tours in the summer, Girtin had a profound influence. Besides Turner, 
De Wint, Francia, John Varley, and Joshua Cristall were fellow-workers 
at Adelphi Terrace. 

Cotman also felt the charm and power of Girtin's art ; and perhaps 
of all that youthful band he was nearest to Girtin in spirit. He joined 
Girtin's sketching club, which had been started in 1799, apparently in the 
first instance by Francia. There were ten members : Girtin, Francia, R. K. 
Porter (brother of Jane Porter, who used sometimes to set the subjects 
for the evening, and thus made Cotman's acqudntance), T. Underwood, 
G. Samuel, T. Worthington, and J. C. Denham, who were the original 
seven ; and three later acquisitions, A. W. Callcott, P. S. Murray, and 
Cotman himself, probably the youngest of them all. Before 1800, when 
Cotman was eighteen, he had made sketching excursions in Wales and 
in Surrey. In the Royal Academy Exhibition of that year he had six 
drawings, five of Surrey subjects, in the neighbourhood of Dorking, 
Guildford, and Leatherhead, and one of Harlech Castle. In the same year 
he received for a drawing the Honorary Palette of the Society of Arts. 

The summers of 1800 and 1801 were probably spent in Wales, for 
we find him exhibiting subjects from South and from North Wales in the 
Academy of the years following them, 1801 and 1802. In Mr. Reeve's 
collection is a drawing of Bridgnorth, in Shropshire, made on his way to 
Wales, or on his return, dated 1800, and signed in upright characters, 
Cotman. It is a monochrome in warm brown. 

Although spending most of his time in London and in long excursions, 
Cotman did not neglect to spend part of each year at Norwich. In the 
Norwich Mercury of September 4, 1802, he "informs his friends that 



JOHN SELL COTMAN 



53 



during his stay in Norwich, which will be for three weeks or a month, he 
proposes giving lessons in drawing to those ladies or gentlemen who may 
think his sketching from Nature or style of colouring beneficial to their 
improvement," The terms asked were half-a^uinea an hour. 

Two months after this advertisement appeared, Girtin died in 
I^ndon. He was only twenty-seven. 

The sketching club survived him, but apparently somewhat trans- 




Ey -J. b\ Co,m.„. 
of Baiil C'/rnh/; Esq. 



formed ; or perhaps there were several cluhs which sprang out of the 
original club. At any rate we know that Cotman belonged to a club 
which met in 1803 and onwards. As in Girtin's days, they would meet 
at the house of one of the members, who provided paper and colours, 
as well as a supper, and who kept the drawings of the evening. A 
few of these sets must still exist ; one was sold at Dr. Percy's sale 
in 1890. The composition here reproduced is one of a number of 
sketching club designs belonging to Mr. Basil Cornish ; more than one 
is by Cotman, whose Influence seems perceptible in most of them. Others 
are by Hayward, Neill, Paul Sandby, Munn, John Varley, and Webster ; 



54 JOHN SELL COTMAN 

names also recorded on the back of a Weird Scene — Moonlight^ in Mr. 
Reeve's possession, as having been present on March 23, 1803, when 
Cotman was president for the evening. Mr. Reeve has a number of 
Cotman's sketching club compositions ; and The Centaur here reproduced 
is one of these. Several are of similar mythological or historical subjects, 
and show that figures occupied the young artist at this time almost as 
much as landscape. 

From the Academy catalogues for the next few years we are able to 
trace Cotman's ramblings over the country. Besides Wales, he sketched 
in Shropshire, Somersetshire, and Lincolnshire, as well as in London 
and the neighbourhood ; but his favourite haunt was Yorkshire, where 
he made a warm friend in Mr. Francis Cholmeley of Brandsby. He 
taught the young Cholmeleys drawing ; and they all took the liveliest 
and most affectionate interest in the work of their friend " Cotty," as 
they named him. While with the Cholmeleys he made some pencil 
portraits of them and of some of their friends. These are not 
remarkable, but show that Cotman did not neglect portraiture, which a 
little later he took up in some earnest. 

Cotman had always a great charm of manner, and he was good- 
looking. The portrait reproduced on p. 51, from a unique lithograph 
in Mr. Reeve's possession, shows his face as it was at this time or a 
little later, before anxiety had worn it, as it did so soon. 

This friendship was maintained by correspondence for many years. 
Cholmeley had always kind and wise counsel for Cotman, and to him 
the young painter confided his hopes and disappointments. In one of 
these letters we find already that note of depression which was later so 
much intensified. Cotman writes full of disappointment at the ill 
success of his drawings, and accuses himself of extravagance ; and 
Cholmeley writes back a long letter to console him, encourages him to 
hope for the future, and to remember that he has good friends, like the 
Turners, who, as he himself had written, " were as kind and generous as 
ever." Dawson Turner and his wife seem indeed to have early interested 
themselves in Cotman's career ; it is evident that their friendship was 
already of some standing. In a letter to Turner of November 1805, 
Cotman says that his summer tour of that year has been confined to York 
and Durham, and that his chief study has been " colouring from Nature." 



JOHN SELL COTMAN 55 

Next year he was in Lincolnshire, and while sketching there the 




The Cintaur. Bi J. S. Cslman. CoUulion if J. R,;-:;; E}^. 
From the rtpreducthn publiiktd by the Autotype Campany. 

impulse came to him to return and settle down at Norwich ; and Having 
made up his mind, he started home. 



56 JOHN SELL COTMAN 



11. Return to Norwich^ and first Residence there — Early Drawings 

On returning to his native city, Cotman found the Norwich Society in 
the first flush of its youthful activity. The first exhibition, as we saw, 
had been held in the previous year. 

Indeed, we can hardly doubt that the spectacle of a young and 
vigorous society holding exhibitions in the place where he was known 
already, and numbering many friends among its members, had its influence 
in determining his resolution to live and work at Norwich. Full of hope 
and interest in his work, he began to make plans for the future, and to 
carry out schemes already in his mind. One ot these was to paint in oils. 
Hitherto, he seems to have worked entirely in water-colours ; but we 
know, by a letter from his friend Francis Cholmeley, that while in 
Yorkshire he had turned his thoughts to oils. 

Towards the end of the same year he took a house in Luckett's 
Court, Wymer Street, — a pleasant old house, now pulled down, — in- 
tending to open there a school of drawing, and to hold a fortnight's 
exhibition of his own works. The exhibition does not seem to have been 
held ; probably because the Norwich Society oflfered better opportunities. 
He must have joined the Norwich Society almost immediately on settling 
in the city. In the next year's exhibition, 1 807, he had twenty works, 
among them six portraits and a " sketch after Vandyke," probably the 
sketch of a man's head now in Mr. Reeve's possession. There were also 
Durham Cathedral and Croyland Abbey ^ favourite subjects of Cotman's, 
both represented at the British Museum, and it may be by these very 
drawings. Both have done service as drawing copies and are somewhat 
rubbed and faded. Yet the Durham^ here reproduced, remains a noble 
drawing. It has Girtin's largeness and serious simplicity, and at the same 
time a deeper comprehension of the grandeur of the architecture, an in- 
tenser feeling for the actual moulding and essential character of the old 
stone. Altogether this is a finer thing than Mr. Colman's Durham 
Cathedral and Castle^ an oblong drawing, in which the wonderful situation 
of the cathedral is not seized to the fullest advantage, and in which the 
colour — which has altered a little — is less harmonious. 

The British Museum Croyland is not quite a success. It is too large 




Durham CalMral. By J. S. Coman. Brithh Museum. 



58 JOHN SELL COTMAN 

for the composition ; and the painting is, for Cotman, a little laboured. 
Nevertheless, the piled, contorted, mountainous thunder-cloud receding 
slowly over the fen, the ruined arches and tower of the Abbey, rising 
against it in cold light, even the chill of the air after the storm, these are 
expressed with an intensity and a grandeur that few could have surpassed. 
But a drawing which is finer and in better condition than these is Mr. 
Reeve's Greta Bridge. Here, and in the same owner's Duncombe Parky 
the finest qualities of Cotman's earlier art are summed up. No reproduc- 
tion can convey the extraordinary charm of colour which Greta Bridge 
possesses. Sober is too tame and negative a word for the harmony that 
pervades it : it is quiet, it is severe ; yet full of living power in all its 
quietness, rich and abundant in all its severity. 

Of equal and perhaps rarer charm is the exquisite Duncombe Park. 
Nowhere so perfectly has Cotman painted the grace of trees in spring. 
The delicate stem of the ash and its fresh leaves traced on the sky are 
painted firmly, with no second touches to mar their transparency, yet 
with what sensitive precision, what aerial lightness ! Such a drawing as 
this makes no loud appeal ; but when the eye has lingered upon it 
sufficiently for the mind to enter its atmosphere, this vision of spring 
woods in their solitude, " retired as noonday dew," seems indeed to have 
distilled the secret charm of all such places, and to contain all the beauty 
of one's memories, with a beauty heightened and more real. 

It is odd to remember that while exhibiting drawings like this, Cot- 
man styled himself " portrait painter." But doubtless painting portraits 
brought more profit than painting Duncombe Parks. As an example of 
Cotman's portraiture at this period, the reproduction of a water-colour of 
Crome (p. 13) done in 1809 is interesting. 

In 1808 the Norwich Exhibition had a wonderful display of Cotman's 
work ; no less than sixty-seven productions, and among them several 
sketches and studies in oil, his first beginnings in this medium. 

In the exhibition of this year was Mr. Reeve's delightful Twickenham^ 
Mid-day^ in which, though the method of painting is the same as in 
Greta Bridge^ there is perceptible a certain diflference in feeling, an 
element of fresh beauty. The sense of breeze and sunshine, the ex- 
pression of physical joy in a day of idle pleasure on the river, are things 
which in earlier drawings Cotman seems scarcely to have aimed at. 




Duitcembe Park. By J. S. Coiman. Collation of J. Reeve, Eif. 
From the reproJuclion publiihed bi the jiutelfpe Compiiny. 



6o JOHN SELL COTMAN 

choosing rather solemn solitudes or noble effects of architecture. Later, 
we find often a great delight in the painting of pleasure-parties, scenes with 
gay and luxurious accessories. But rarely do we find it expressed with 
such happy freshness, such a feeling of youth and morning, as in this 
early Twickenham, 



III. Marriage — Drawings previous to 1817 

Already, as we have noticed, Cotman had suffered from fits of 
despondency when he felt uncertain of his future. But just now he 
seems to have been full of hope as of activity. He was much esteemed 
at Norwich, was making friends, and feeling that his powers were recog- 
nised by his fellow-artists. He had schemes for the future, and looked 
forward. Early in 1809 he was married. 

His wife, Ann Mills, was the daughter of a farmer at Felbrigg, near 
Cromer, and at Felbrigg the wedding took place on January 6. Of his 
wife we know little, but in a pencil portrait by Cotman, possessed by 
their grandson, Dr. Cotman, her features and expression have a look of 
sweet firmness, which confirms what appears elsewhere about her 
character. 

Cotman lost no time in settling to his work as a teacher. His plan 
of teaching was a peculiar one. It was the system of a circulating library. 
Subscribers could choose, for a quarterly subscription of a guinea, from a 
collection of six hundred drawings, taking home what they liked to copy. 
Cotman gave instructions in copying on the two days in the week when 
the drawings were delivered. It was his practice to number these draw- 
ings ; the numbers often seen on his water-colours refer to this collection. 
And as there are some bearing numbers running into several thousands, 
the collection must have greatly increased in later years. 

Besides painting and teaching, Cotman now began to turn serious 
attention to etching. Perhaps among his earliest attempts on copper 
were some of the soft-ground etchings, not published till long afterwards 
in the Liber Studiorum of 1838. But these were done for his own plea- 
sure. It was in his thoughts now to publish a volume of etchings by 
subscription. But before turning to the series of etchings which were to 



1 


BHi 1 


i 


^^1^^^' ^^^p '^iiuk^^i^i^l 


, 1 










^B T. " ' sHj^l ^ fl^H 


1 


^^L^MaKi^^IHhi 'fl^^l 



si 




■Jj^^uzJc^na ,tAe. LAod 



JOHN SELL COTM.'IN 63 j 

form so large a part of Cotman's production during the next ten years, 
it is necessary to note some drawings of this time. 

Cotman's work cannot be split up neatly and crudely into periods. 
He kept so many aims before him in his work, concentrating himself, 
however, on each for the time being, that it would be dangerous to assert 
a date too precisely for many of his drawings. Still, we can indicate 
roughly the probable period of most of his work. 

We have noticed in the Twickenham a certain indication of a new J 
element in Cotman's painting. In the drawings of the years immediately' 
following we find a distinct change. It shows itself chiefly in the direcUon ' 
of colour, as if Cotman were dissatisfied with the sobriety, however rich, 
of his early style. The warm yellows, which afterwards became so 
fascinating to him, begin to appear. 

In the large Trenlham Church of 1808 or 1809 there is an interesting 
instance of his fondness for sumptuous colour. The chief feature in the 
drawing is a gorgeous Moorish saddle-cloth of crimson embroidered with 
gold, which is hung over the pulpit, and this is evidently painted with 
intense enjoyment. 

In the Draining Mill, Lincolnshire, of rSio, warm tones begin to 
assert themselves ; and in the Mousehold Heath of the same year the 
favourite yellow is even more prominent. These two drawings, both in 
Mr. Reeve's collection, mark a transition, and are not quite so successAil 
as they might have been, fine as each is in its way, on that account. 
From this time to about 18 15 the water-colours show frequently an 
attempt to paint sunshine, such as is absent from the earlier work ; not 
the hot sunshine of the years after Cotman's visits to Normandy, but a 
limpid wash of light. 

But more remarkable than any of the water-colours of this time is a 
series of black and white drawings on gray paper, of which Mr. Reeve 
possesses beautiful examples. One of these. The Mare and Foal, is dated 
1 8 16, And to the same date, or perhaps a little earlier, may be assigned 
one of Cotman's most wonderful achievements — Breaking I he Clod, which 
is here reproduced as a plate. Of this lovely drawing J hope to say 
something later on. Not far removed from this are some compositions 
in which, as in Breaking the Clod, the charm and mystery of foliage have 
been the central aim. Dewy Eve^ with its broad and darkly branching 



64 JOHN SELL COTMAN 

trees, under which two boys are fishing, and the Shadowed Stream 
(p. 77) are instances ; and perhaps more beautiful than either, Post wick 
Grove (p. 79). 

Here, and also in a drawing of Cader IdriSy with a mountain pool in 
the foreground, into which Cotman has inserted, to break the lines, a 
number of stakes, a curious effect is noticeable. To gain richness and 
brilliance, Cotman mixed with his colour thin paste, which had been 
allowed to go sour ; the paint, instead of being absorbed, lies on the sur- 
face, transparent in the track of the brush, and clotted at its edges. The 
result is a wonderful glowing effect, especially in the intense and luminous 
blues of Cader Idris} 

All of these are in all probability anterior to Cotman's first visit to 
Normandy in 18 17. After his Normandy tours his colouring was 
almost always in a far higher key. 

With the drawings made in Normandy and after his return I shall 
deal later. Meanwhile let us come back to the etchings. 



IV. Etchings — Residence at Yarmouth 

A letter to Dawson Turner, dated February 1 8 1 1 , the original of 
which is now in the Print Room of the British Museum, tells us some- 
thing of Cotman's aims in etching. He says : " I decidedly follow 
Piranesi, however far I may be behind him in every requisite " ; and he 
goes on to ask his friend if he could manage to procure him a sight of a 
complete set of Piranesi's etchings, such as he knew Mr. Hudson Gurney 
to possess. Again : " It has been my aim to improve by every means in 
my power, even in the article of paper, which I caused to be made for 
me. The substance is stouter and better-coloured than most printg." 

When this letter was written, Cotman had already etched his first 
series of plates. Most are dated 1810, several January 181 1. The set 
was issued in parts, and published in 1 8 1 1 by Boydell and by Colnaghi 
in London, and dedicated to Sir H. C. Englefield, Bart. With the 
exception of one plate, a sylvan scene in Buncombe Park, the subjects are 
all architectural, and the majority of these are antiquities in Yorkshire. 

^ All these drawings are in Mr. Reeve's collection. 



'JOHN SELL COTMAN 



«7 



I 



All Cotman's etchings were badly printed, in the driest possible way, and 
this makes his bitten lines appear more meagre and poverty-stricken than 
they really were. As an etcher, he cannot be compared to Piranesi. 
Nor, except in some of the few plates published after his death, did he 
work in the true etcher's spirit. These etchings are, in fact, simply 
records of architectural studies. It is in this light that we must view 
them ; and so regarded, they have extraordinary merit. Few have 
nnderstood architecture so well, or drawn it with such mastery. 

It is not merely the seizure of a picturesque point of view, from 
which a ruined arch or a cathedral front conveniently helps the 
compiosition and gives interest to the landscape, nor is it the plain 
likeness of a building. Cotman loved architecture, and at his hands a 
monument of antiquity receives a loving treatment, its dignity is com- 
municated, its features tenderly recorded. It is to him a thing of 
venerable life, and he draws it almost as a sentient creation, that has 
lived its life and gathered round it an atmosphere of its own, not so 
much built upon as growing out of the ground, with its own trees and 
hills about it, surrounding the weather-moulded walls with a kind of 
natural sanctity. Kven the clouds are made to conspire sometimes 
towards the particular impression designed. In the Byland Abbey, for 
instance (a nearer view than that in Mr. Reeve's fine early drawing), the 
white ascending clouds carry on and upward the lines of the building, as 
if in the artist's mind they were raising again in a triumphant dream the 
soaring arch of the long-fallen roof. 

In the same letter from which I have already quoted Cotman 
announces his intention of beginning a series of Etchings of all Orna- 
mented Antiquities in Norfolk. The series thus projected was issued, 
like the first, in ten parts, the publication of which extended from 1 8 1 2 
to 1818. In this last year they were issued complete by Longmans, 
The plates are sixty in number. 

Meanwhile Cotman had left Norwich for Southtown, Yarmouth. In 
making this change he was chiefly influenced by his friendship for 
Dawson Turner, who lived at Yarmouth, and whose antiquarian enthusiasm 
had found in Cotman so ready a seconder. Through Dawson Turner 
also Cotman gained many pupils, and he was encouraged to think that 
by living at Yarmouth he would benefit professionally. 



1 
I 



68 JOHN SELL COTMAN 

At the same time he did not sever his connection with Norwich, but 
continued giving regular lessons there. His time was therefore passed 
between the two places. He was to remain in Yarmouth till 1823. 

These years were principally occupied with etching. But he also 
devoted more attention than he had hitherto done to oil-painting. The 
Water/ally with its beautiful composition and bold colour, dates from 
the earlier part of this period ; and from these years also must date the 
earliest of Cotman's fine sea-pieces, of which the Fishing Boats off 
Yarmouth is so splendid a specimen. 

The now habitual sight and companionship of the sea began to enter 
into Cotman's life ; he studied shipping, and mastered the forms of 
waves. And perhaps as potent, though indirect, was the influence on his 
mind and art of the changeful vastness, the restless infinity of the sea, 
bringing a new and quickening stimulus to his eye and brain. 

But to return to the etchings. While the Antiquities of Norfolk 
was still in course of publication, Cotman projected another large work, 
the Sepulchral Brasses of Norfolk. This occupied him between 18 14 
and 181 8, and the work was published in 18 19. In a second edition, 
published by Bohn in 1839, a series of Suffolk brasses were added. The 
Brasses need not concern us, beyond showing how absorbed in antiquities 
Cotman was at this period. 

1 8 14 is also the date of a little volume illustrated by him, occasioned 
by the fall of Napoleon in that year. The book, privately printed, is an 
account of the "Grand Festival at Yarmouth, on Tuesday, the 19th of 
April 1 8 14." 

Cotman's title-page represents, above, a scene at the dinner given on 
the quay to eight thousand people ; the beef and plum-pudding are 
arriving, and foaming tankards uproariously lifted : below, the donkey 
races which followed. These festivities led up to the ceremonious 
kindling of a huge bonfire, crowned by an efligy of Napoleon (the head 
filled with gunpowder). This was also etched by Cotman, together with 
a plan of the dinner-tables on the quay, and an elevation of the Funeral 
Pile of the Buonapartean Dynasty^ a picture of the Tyrant in the Devil's 
clutches. Altogether, it is an amusing glimpse into that wonderful time 
when Europe for a brief time breathed freely, and through Britain 
especially all men were in a rapture of excited joy. 




Prkr'i Enlr^ntf, E/y CaltcdraL From th Elching iy J. S. Caiman. 



JOHH SELL COTMAN 



7' 






It seems strange that while Crome took advantage of this opportunity 
to visit Paris, Cotman should have remained at home. Three years 
later he did cross the Channel, but it was on a different errand. 



V. Viiiis to Normandy — Eichhigs (^continued) 



He went to Normandy, and to see architecture, not pictures. Dawson 
Turner's account is that Cotman, while engaged in recording the archi- 
tectural antiquities of Norfolk, supposed to be of Saxon origin, was 
struck with the apparently Norman character prevailing in them, and 
wished to satisfy himself by studying Norman architecture in the land of 
its birth. It may be that this was rather Dawson Turner's own design 
than Cotman's. But at any rate Cotman agreed to accompany him and 
his wife on this first tour in 1817, He made a second tour in 1818, 
and a third, this time alone, in 1820. The result of these visits was the 
great series of 100 etchings, published in 1822. 

These etchings are more interesting architecturally than as drawings ; 
and avowedly so. For Dawson Turner, in his introduction, says 
expressly that the buildings selected were chosen principally for certainty 
as to date. He tells us that many much more beautiful subjects might 
have been selected, but that these were excluded ; and significantly adds : 
" An artist accustomed by his habits to the contemplation of the beautiful 
and picturesque, requires above all men to be warned on this head," 
Stiil, some of the plates, especially those in which the building is made 
the centre of a landscape, are noble and impressive compositions. The 
British Museum Print Room possesses Dawson Turner's copy of the 
Normandy ; it contams proofs of each plate in every state, some additional 
prints, and an unpublished portrait of Cotman etched by Mrs. Turner 
after J. P. Davis. 

The Crypt of the Abbey Church of the Holy Trinity at Caen, here 
reproduced (p. 73), occurs in the second volume. It illustrates the 
powerful drawing of architecture which the whole series exhibits, together 
with a pictorial effect which is wanting in most of the etchings. But the 
most interesting plates are in volume iv. The two views of Chateau 



72 JOHN SELL COTMJl^ 

Gaillard, one from below, the other from above, with the massive ruins 
standing desolate on their rocky solitudes ; Tancarville Castle with its 
fringed cliffs reflected in the sunny stream ; Falaise rising steeply above 
headlong boulders; and Mont St. Michel, surrounded by infinite sand 
and sea, are all seen as only Cotman would have seen them, and portrayed 
with a fine appreciation of their grandeur. 

Before this work was issued, Dawson Turner brought out in 1820 
his Account of a Tour in Normandy^ the plates in which were etched by 
his daughter, mostly after Cotman's design. Indeed, besides the actual 
drawings for the Antiquities^ Normandy supplied Cotman with an immense 
amount of material. It also seems to have given a fresh impetus to his 
art, and in particular to have set him working on new and more daring 
experiments in colour. Whether the journey to Normandy was the 
cause or the occasion of this new departure is hard to say. But it is 
certain that after 1820 Cotman began to conceive his paintings in a far 
higher key of colour, aiming at audacious effects, in which he often 
succeeded and sometimes failed. The change in his art is nearly parallel 
with that wrought in Turner's art by his first visit to Italy. This latter 
case one can understand. But why Normandy, more than other places, 
should have revealed to him new skies and a new sunshine, is not easily 
explained. Perhaps, after all, it was not the place itself, but the shock of 
change, and the freedom which he enjoyed there, away from the drudgery 
of teaching. Even had he remained at home, it was inevitable that his 
art should develop on such lines ; one feels the change coming after the 
first settling at Norwich ; and the Normandy journeys did but hasten 
this necessary development. 

The Normandy etchings were by no means the only published 
product of this most industrious time. In the years 1816-18 Cotman 
etched fifty plates — decidedly architectural in character, many of them 
fonts and doorways — which were not regularly published, it is said, 
but circulated among his friends. They made a small folio, under 
the title Specimens of Norman and Gothic Architecture in the County 
of Norfolk. 

A single etching of 1817 deserves a mention. It represents the 
Nelson Column, which every one who has visited Yarmouth will 
remember rising from the sands, and of which the foundation-stone 



JOHN SELL COTMAN 



75 



I 



was laid in this year, Cotman etched in an effective sky, in which 
phantasmal battleships tower with great sails among the clouds. 

In r8i9 appeared Aniiquiiies of Saint Mary's Chapel at Stourbridge, 
near Cambridge . Published by John Sell Cotman, Yarmouth. Dawson 
Turner's copy of this, with all the states of the ten plates, is, like the 
similar copies of the Norfolk Antiquities and the Normandy^ in the 
Print Room. The etching of the Prior s Entrance at Ely Cathedral^ 
here reproduced, is a happy specimen both of Cotman's etching and 
of his architectural drawing. The feeling of the stone is there ; it does 
not look like pastry, as with so many draughtsmen ; there is scrupulous 
precision, but no dulness or harshness of outline, and the copper is 
effectively bitten. Besides all these works, and the Sepulchral Brasses, 
a publication of 1818-19 contains a great number of illustrations, 
many of which, though not etched by Cotman, were engraved after 
his designs. Many of these little engravings are as admirable as the 
drawings. 



VI. Second Residence in Norioich 



The twelve years of residence at Yarmouth, which were the most active 
and wen-611ed of Cotman's life, comprise, roughly speaking, the period 
of the architectural etchings. Henceforward Cotman gave himself up 
to painting. 

Not that these years had been by any means unfruitful in paintings. 
Of the drawings made before the Normandy towns we have already 
spoken. Some of his finest sea-pieces, both his oil and water-colours, 
must be referred to this time. The oil pictures may, for convenience 
sake, be dealt with in a separate section. At present it will be enough 
to observe in the beautiful composition reproduced as a plate, which 
dates from about 1820, how admirably Cotman could seize the motion 
of a boat and render the effect of moonlight broken on rough water. 

With the publication of the Normandy, in 1822, Cotman's anti- 
quarian labours came to an end. A family of five children, a daughter 
and four boys, the eldest of whom. Miles Edmund, was now twelve, 
was growing up round him ; and a sixth child, a daughter, was born 



76 JOHN SELL COTMAN 

in this same year. Dissatisfied with what he had hitherto been able 
to earn, and becoming, with increasing claims upon him, anxious for 
the future, he sought for some way of bettering his position ; and 
he determined to return to Norwich. There, he thought, he would 
have more scope, and at the same time he hoped to keep his Yarmouth 
pupils. 

So, full of anticipations, which were to be little realised, he came 
back early in 1824 to his native city, and took a large red brick house 
on St. Martin's Palace Plain, opposite the bishop's palace. The house 
has a wrought-iron ornamental gate, in which Cotman doubtless took 
pleasure ; and before it across the " plain," as Norfolk people, like the 
Dutch, call a square or place, is a group of trees for which he found 
use in his compositions. 

In this house, before he left it, twelve years after, there was amassed 
a fine collection of prints and books and armour ; for Cotman, like 
Rembrandt, and like many another artist before him, could never resist 
the temptation to buy beautiful things and have them round him. 
Moreover, as he was now no longer in daily sight of shipping, he had 
a collection of models of every sort of craft, " from a man-of-war 
to a coble." 

To herald his return to Norwich he had, in 1823, contributed 
again a number of drawings, nineteen, to the Norwich Society's 
exhibition. Most of these were Normandy subjects. The Entrance into 
Falaise^ lately belonging to Lady Eastlake, may be taken as a specimen 
of this date. A gush of vivid sunlight over the foreground plays on 
the trees and touches the entrance of the town, most of which is still 
in the blue shadow of retreating storm. It is a daring attempt in 
contrasted colour, such as Cotman in these later years became too 
fond of. 

The Dieppe at South Kensington Museum, painted about the same 
time, is also a fair example of the drawings done from sketches in 
Normandy. In both of these, as also in the fine and characteristic 
Windmill (p. 85), the reed pen was used for outlines. Before this 
time Cotman does not seem to have used it. 

But among these Normandy drawings none is more lovely than 
Mr. Reeve's Chateau in Normandy (p. 83), a drawing which is full 






• . • 



JOHN SELL COTMAN 77 

of summer, delicate yet boJd in colour, succeeding perfectly in the 
effect of indolent sunshine and blue sky. 

This same composition was used, in 1831, for another probably later 
drawing of fuller tone, which the writer has not had the opportunity of 
seeing, — Mr. Pyke Thompson's Blue Afternoon. 

To the exhibition of 1824 Cotman sent fifty-two works, some in oil. 




Th ShuUz^rJ Sln;:m. By J. S. C.r.lm,,,:. C'JIul,'.^ of J. R,;- 
From Ih- rtproduLU'jii piibliikeJ lis lie Auiulspf Comp,ini. 



Mr. Bridgman's View from Yarmoiah Bridge (see p. 91 ) was among the 
oil pictures, and an Old House at St. Albans^^ also painted bv Mulreadv, 
whose picture of it is at South Kensington. 

There was also a pair of drawings entitled : " A Landscape, 
with the Kable of the Judgment of Midas, and a view of Whitby, 
Yorkshire, part of a series of designs intended to illustrate a work now 
publishing on landscape composition." This is interesting as showing 
that the book of etchings afterwards called Liber Studiorum was now 
I Exhibited recently at Messrs. Dowdeswells'. 



78 JOHN SELL COTMAN 

occupying Cotman, for the Midas and the Whitby are two of the subjects 
in it. The etchings were not actually published, however, till 1838. 



VII. Cotman joins the Water^olour Society — Depression 

The Norwich Society was suspended for a time after the exhibition 
of 1825, the last held in Sir Benjamin Wrench's Court. But from this 
year begins Cotman's connection with the Water-colour Society, and he 
now became a regular exhibitor in London. 

From letters by Miss Turner and her sister, Mrs. Palgrave, written in 
January of this year and quoted in Mr. Reeve's Memoir^ it appears that 
it was chiefly on their suggestion that he joined the Society. But the 
members were themselves anxious that he should exhibit with them. 
*' They would be proud," Charles Wild the treasurer had said, " to 
admit him." 

The result was that Cotman sent three Normandy drawings, which 
had been done as commissions, to the exhibition of this same spring. 
One was Dieppe^ already noticed ; another, Mont Saint MicJiel^ one of 
severaj he painted of this subject ; and a third, the Abbatial House of 
St. Ouen^ Rouen^ possibly the drawing now belonging to Mr. Colman. 
This last is a splendid instance of Cotman's later architectural drawings. 
The house, ornate and stately in itself, is appropriately set off by the 
gay groups of richly-dressed ladies and cavaliers. Mr. Roget's Framling- 
ham Castle^ a small but impressive drawing, is another example of 
Cotman's later treatment of architecture ; it is dated 1828. 

In this last year, when the Norwich Society, reorganised, began again 
to hold exhibitions, Cotman sent drawings to both societies and continued 
to do so for some years. 

To this period belong most of a class of drawings by which Cotman 
is sometimes unfairly judged. These are the water-colours made by him 
from sketches by W. H. Harriott. They represent scenes and places 
never visited by Cotman ; and their inferiority is very palpable when 
placed beside drawings which are entirely his own. As a rule, the 
consciousness of an intermediary vision between him and the subject, 
the loss of grasp and intimate comprehension, are sought to be atoned 



JOHN SELL COTMAN 



79 



for by daring and brilliance of contrasted colour ; never quite successfully. 
The Cologne, in Sir Charles Robinson's collection, lately exhibited at the 
Guildhall, is an example. It is to be hoped that those who saw this 
drawing, the only Cotman in the exhibition, did not imagine it to be 
representative. 

And what of the artist himself, who had been producing his work 




Pr:,tz^'kk Cro'.;: By J. S. Colm.ui. Co!L;-n'j,: oi' J. R,y-.v. E,q. 
From ih,- rtpraJiHtion publiihfd h ih Aiilot^pc Co'ipmn. 

with such unflagging industry ? Of a temperament fine-strung in the 
extreme, and continually passing from high spirits or exaltation to fits 
of profound melancholy, he felt with ever - increasing keenness the 
wearing anxieties of his position. And conscious as he must have 
been of powers far superior to those of most of his contemporaries, he 
endured doubtless much bitterness in his comparative want of success. 
He got very few commissions ; his pictures and drawings sold ill ; he 
was more and more under the yoke of the drudgery of teaching. His 
income did not increase, and was inadequate to his needs ; and his mind 



8o JOHN SELL COTMAN 

gave itself up to gloomy apprehensions. In 1826, disappointed of the 
hopes with which he had returned to Norwich, 'and encumbered with the 
large house which he had taken, his depression approached desp^r. 

Dawson Turner exhorted him to look the facts in the face, to examine 
his circumstances carefully, and if it were necessary, retrench, and take a 
smaller house. His letter is printed in Mr. Reeve's Memoir ^ and from 
it we learn that Cotman had made ^^200 by teaching in the previous year. 

But Cotman was difficult to comfort, and Dawson Turner then wrote 
to his father, urging him to persuade his son to get rid of his large house 
and if possible return to Yarmouth. This, however, Cotman refused to 
do ; his pride was roused, he felt it would be to retreat, to surrender ; 
and he resolved to make fresh efforts, to harden his heart and conquer. 
Fortune, however, did not mend. 

A letter, dated June 26, 1829, refusing an invitation from a friend, 
reveals the depth of gloom into which he had fallen. 

My views in life are so completely blasted, that I sink under the repeated and 
constant exertion of body and mind. Every effort has been tried, even without the 
hope of success ; hence that loss of spirits amounting almost to despair. 

My eldest son, who is following the same miserable profession with myself^ 
feels the same hopelessness ; and his powers, once so promising, are evidently 
paralized, and his health and spirits gone. My amiable and deserving wife bears 
her part with fortitude. But the worm is there. My children cannot but feel 
the contagion. As a husband and father, bound by every tie human and divine to 
cherish and protect them, I leave you to suppose how impossible it must be for 
me to feel one joy divided from them. I watch them, and they me, narrowly 5 and 
I see enough to make me broken-hearted. 

In another letter there is an even more tragic disclosure of the state 
of Cotman's mind, brooding over a casual saying of one of his children, — 
fVhy^ Papa smiled^ — with self-reproach and horror at what he had allowed 
to be seen upon his face, and tormented with his own imagination. 



VIII. Cotman appointed Professor of Drawing at Kings College — 

Sale of 1834 

Yet even from such dejection he could at times rally ; not, indeed, 
without a feverish brightness that tells of uncertain moods. 




Gunteii Pari. By J. S. Coimari. By ptrmtssien of Mr. Pahtr. 



JOHN SELL COTMJN 



83 



Only six months after writing the just-quoted letter, he was writing 
in great elation about a conversazione held by the artists of the Norfolk 
and Suffolk Institution. " It was the most brilliant thing ever witnessed 
for Norwich Art, and not one thing went amiss, ll^e, the ^rlisls, have 
reason to be perfectly satisfied. It was as far beyond my expectations as 
possible, and I was one of the most sanguine upon the subject of any." 




V 7. S. C'.t>-uri. C',lh-tlhii ',/■ J. R,;-.;-, 
■sff publhhed by llr Aufjiype C'.'np,iny. 



Even in this little fragment from a letter, one has a glimpse into 
Cotman's nature ; easily persuading itself of good, and easily of evil ; 
not the sort of nature which, in the happiest of circumstances, is best 
fortified against melancholy, but feeling joy and pain with equal intensity. 
Work was his great refuge ; pencil and brush were scarcely ever out of 
his hand. But his anxieties did not decrease, until at last an event 



84 JOHN SELL COTMAN 

occurred which showed him at least that he had friends eager in his 
behalf, and that his painting had won for itself a certain recognition. 
More than this, there seemed to open a prospect of better times. 

The professorship of drawing at King's College had fallen vacant ; 
and in January 1834 Cotman was appointed to the post. Cotman's 
name was originally suggested, it would seem, by Lady Palgrave. In a 
letter to her, quoted by Mr. Roget (vol. ii. p. 35), Cotman expresses his 
gratitude. 

Dear Lady Palgrave (he writes) — The final arrangement is made. I am 
to have one guinea per annum beyond the annual sum of ;^ioo for every pupil 
beyond 100. The numbers amount to from 170 to 180, consequently an income 
beyond the highest sum originally fixed. As you are the first spring or mover 
in this delightful plan for me, you will, I hope, excuse my eagerness in laying my 
happiness before you. Present my most respectful compliments to Sir Thomas 
Palgrave. — Most respectfully your devoted servant, J. S. Cotman. 

Two of my sons are to be placed in the school, one free of expense, 

A powerful seconder of Lady Palgrave's exertions was J. M. W. 
Turner. Several of the governors approached him to ask whom he 
would recommend. To each he replied, " Why, Cotman, of course," 
appearing impatient at last that any one should admit a doubt upon so 
clear a question. 

Turner's admiration had begun long ago, when they worked together 
at Dr. Monro's ; and we have other evidence that it had not decreased, 
besides being reciprocated. 

Turner's Liber Studiorum appeared 1807-19, and Cotman made 
from it a number of exquisite copies in pencil, now in Mr. Reeve's 
collection. Whether Turner saw these, we do not know ; but he 
certainly saw a copy that Cotman had made of one of the subjects in the 
Rivers of France. He liked it so much that he wished to have it. It 
was given him ; and a few years afterwards he gave it away again as his 
own ! When the owner had it remounted, he found on the back : " By John 
Sell Cotman ; presented to my old and esteemed friend, J. M. W. Turner." 

This emphatic championship on Turner's part must have gladdened 
Cotman. His spirits were roused too at the new prospect opening before 
him, and he occupied himself eagerly with the business of the change. It 
was necessary to arrange for the move at once. 



JOHN .SELL cor MAN 85 

The eldest son. Miles Edmund, was to continue his work as teacher 
at Norwich, Before bringing his family to London, he took lodgings 




there himself with his son John Joseph in Gerrard Street, and finally 
took a house at No. 42 Hunter Street, Brunswick Square. 



86 JOHN SELL COTMAN 

All this meant expense. And for this and other reasons it was 
determined that the collections formed in the house at St. Martin's Palace 
Plain should be sold. 

The sale took place in September ; it lasted three days, from the 
loth to the 1 2th, and fetched ^569 :6s. Besides engravings, etchings, 
paintings, and drawings, the entire library and the collections of models, 
of boats, casts, and armour were included. The books, nearly all fine 
illustrated works, numbered about a thousand ; the prints, among which 
were etchings of Rembrandt and the other Dutchmen, and — special favour- 
ites of Cotman — some of those brilliant Bolswerts and Vorstermans after 
Rubens, numbered about 5000. Among the drawings Guido, Vande- 
velde, Ostade, and Zucchero were represented. Cotman's own drawings 
were not sold, but kept for use in London. But there were several 
oil pictures of his, framed, which were sold, the highest price gained being 
five guineas for The Mishaps now at Carrow House. 

As the catalogue of this sale gives us evidence for the date of 
these pictures, some of which can be traced to their present owners, this 
may be an appropriate place for gathering up such clues as can be found 
about Cotman's production of oil pictures, intermittent and fragmentary 
as it had been up to the present period. 



IX. Oil Paintings 

Cotman was always haunted by the desire of painting in oils, but his 
other occupations never left him free to pursue it regularly, ambitiously, 
with the devotion that he wished. And not only his other occupations, 
but lack of purchasers. He must have had very few commissions in all 
his life. One instance of a commission is known ; and in this case 
Cotman received £10^ with the price of the canvas and colours. This 
was not a great sum, but it was twice as much as was fetched by any of 
the oil pictures at the sale of 1 834. Among them was the Fishing Boats off 
Yarmouth (p. 89), now in Mr. Colman's possession, — perhaps Cotman's 
masterpiece in oils, — and this had hung unsold for years in his house at 
St. Martin's Palace Plain. 

It is obvious from these considerations, as well as from the scarcity of 




The Waterfall. By J. S. Cotman. Cdkman if J. J. Caiman, Eij. 
From the reproduttioti publUhed by the Autotype Company. 



88 JOHN SELL COTMAN 

leisure allowed by a drawing-master's duties and the incessant production 
of water-colours and etchings, that Cotman could not have painted a 
great number of oil pictures. We have it also on his son's authority 
that he never painted a large picture ; a somewhat vague statement, but 
one that confirms what one would surmise. 

Probably, therefore, the list of oil pictures sold in 1834 comprises 
most of those painted during the second residence in Norwich ; some 
may date from the Yarmouth time, when Cotman certainly took up oils 
more earnestly than he had hitherto. 

The Waterfall (p. 87), for which Mr. Reeve has the first sketch, 
must be fairly early, dating from about 1 8 1 5 perhaps. It is rather flat, 
designedly, and in a cold key of colour, but painted with a full, fat brush, 
like nearly all of Cotman's oil pictures, and very characteristic in com- 
position. This was not in the sale of 1834 ; but another picture of the 
same period. Wherries on Breydon^ the picture now in the National 
Gallery, was in the sale, and fetched 1 8s. It was since sold as a Crome, 
and is not in its original condition. Nevertheless, it remains very 
beautiful ; boldly simple in design, direct in execution. Nowhere surely 
has the poetry of sails been more perfectly expressed. 

Of the Galliot in a GaUy also in the National Gallery, it may be 
enough to say that whoever imagines that in this picture he sees a repre- 
sentative or fine Cotman, errs. Cotman could draw boats with mastery, 
and waves with mastery ; but this boat is superficially painted, these waves 
are stage waves, and though a wave is striking the boat, the boat is 
evidently unwettcd. Contrast all this with the Fishing Boats off Tar- 
mouth, Here the boat rides in the swinging mass of the swell ; the masts 
and rigging of the two anchored smacks strain in the wind, the air is dim 
with fine scattered spray ; all is wet and wild, blown cloud and living sea. 

These pictures were painted before the visit to Normandy. After- 
wards, Cotman took to painting on a warm yellow ground, and the later 
pictures have a warmer and more glowing tone. The Mishap (p. 91) 
is one of these. In an earlier picture of trees, the Alder Car^ in the 
possession of Dr. Cotman, the painter's grandson, the foliage has a dark, 
sombre colouring, which makes the beautiful painting seem a little heavy ; 
in The Alishap the trees are brightly touched with golden, almost ruddy 
hues. This little picture fetched the highest price at the 1834 sale — 



JOHN SELL COTMAN 91 

jf 5 : 5s., and its companion, The Baggage Waggon, jf 5. Slighter but 
somewhat similar to these are two pictures owned by Mrs. Gunn ; one, a 
charming piece, with delicate soft trees ; another, a composition of trees, 
founded on the view from Cotman's window on St. Martin's Palace Plain. 




ll-e Uiih>f. By J. S. Colman. Colk.-lhii <■/ J. J. Colman, Ei^. 
From the reproiiucuon publhl.tti h ih AuHtipe Camparif. 



One or two characteristic little compositions, for which Mr. Reeve 
has sketches, are, or were, in Messrs. Dowdeswells' possession. 

But more important than these is Mr. Bridgman's very beautiful 



92 JOHN SELL COTMAN 

View from Yarmouth Bridge^ looking towards Breydon, just after Sunset^ 
in which there is more subtlety of atmospheric effect than is usual 
with Cotman, yet not less simplicity and largeness. The flush is just 
beginning to fade from a glowing summer evening, and from the sails 
upon the peaceful water. This is one of the very finest of Cotman's 
works in oil. It was exhibited at Norwich in 1824. The companion, 
also owned by Mr. Bridgman, Dutch Boats at Yarmouth^ is splendid and 
luminous in colour, but less wonderful. 



X. Residence in London — Last JVorks and Death 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, it is interesting to recall, was Cotman's pupil 
at King's College School, doubtless the most illustrious pupil he ever had. 
Cotman had been some five vears at the school when Rossetti entered it, 
and for some few years more he taught Rossetti drawing. In W. M. 
Rossetti's life of his brother (vol. 1. p. 73) there is a vivid glimpse of the 
artist in this later time. " An alert, forceful-looking man, of moderate 
stature, with a fine well-moulded face, which testified to an impulsive 
nature somewhat worn and wearied. He seemed sparing of speech, but 
high-strung in what he said," with '' a rather abrupt and excitable manner." 

It is such a face as we see in the water-colour portrait by H. B. Love 
in Mr. Reeve's possession, wrought upon by time and care, yet with the 
nervous energy behind it intensified in expression, since the early portrait 
of his youth. 

Just now, however— it was not for some few years that Rossetti joined 
the school — Cotman was in cheerful spirits; the lifting of his anxieties 
by the prospect of a better income made him look forward with something 
like happiness to his new life. Letters to Miles Edmund show us the 
whole family occupied drawing in the evenings for the college. The 
studies made by the sons and daughter were included among Cotman's 
drawing copies, and sometimes the work of a promising pupil would be 
honoured in the same way. 

In 1835 Miles Edmund came to London, and at the end of 1836 was 
appointed to assist his father when John Joseph returned to Norwich to 
continue the teaching there. Letters to the latter give us glimpses of 



JOHN SELL COTMAN 



93 



Cotman's busy life and his amusements. He writes of the pleasure which 
had been given him by a mention of him in a book by an old pupil, and 
again of a party at his house, and the old friends who came. 

He now saw more of brother artists than he had done since his 




'iagg.ig,- H\,gg^n. By J. S. Colm„>,. Collertim of J. J. Co/mm 
From the rtproducthn published ii Ike Auiai^pc Compans. 



early time in London. Stark was living now in Chelsea ; Cattermole 
and Prout, too, from whom there are letters to Cotman that have been 
preserved, were his friends ; and Varley, who came to visit him once 
when he was ill at Norwich a few years before this, and prophesied his 



94 JOHN SELL COTMAN 

living for another ten years ; and David Cox. With Cox, who admired 
his work excessively, he was to have made an excursion to Birmingham 
in August 1838, but something or other prevented. 

Cotman had drawings by some of these painter friends. At a sale 
at Christie's in May 1836 a number of Cotman*s drawings, with others 
by Varley, Prout, Cox, Cattermole, Miiller, and Copley Fielding, which 
belonged to him and had been made up into lots with his own, were 
sold. It was a miscellaneous sale, the chief feature of which was a 
number of sketches by Wilkie. Neither the Coxes nor the Miillers 
fetched so much as the Cotmans, one of w^hich, a Yarmouth SandSy 
brought no less than ^2 : los. What days for collectors were those ! 

This and the former sale at Norwich doubtless taught Cotman that 
money was not to be made by his painting. Yet he continued to 
produce, even though his labours at the college were tyrannously 
exacting of his hours. The work was, in fact, too much for him ; it 
was wearing him down. His health began visibly to weaken. But he 
had fewer anxieties than heretofore, and wrote cheerful letters. He 
felt himself appreciated in London, and was easily gratified with little 
things. In 1836 he was made honorary member of the Institute of 
British Architects, a tribute to the knowledge and antiquarian enthusi- 
asm of his architectural works. 

Two years later the whole of the etchings were published by Bohn 
in five parts, the fifth of which was the Liber Studiorum^ also published 
separately. Cotman's Liber^ once, it seems, intended to illustrate, like 
Turner's, all kinds of composition in landscape, though the scheme was 
never carried to completion, remains a valuable index to his mind. It 
contains nearly all his favourite themes. The etchings, called by Bohn 
"early efforts," seem to date mostly fi-om Cotman's maturity, and the 
second residence in Norwich. They are nearly all on soft ground. 

As Mr. Roget has pointed out, it is remarkable that there is no sea- 
subject among Cotman's etchings. But otherwise his versatility is well 
represented. The Bamborough is a fine example of his drawings of old 
castles, planted firmly on rocky heights. And The DeviFs Bridge (p. 97) 
is a variation of a favourite subject for which Cotman's name was Height 
and Depth, Mr. Colman has a drawing with this title. Some of the larger 
plates are classical compositions with graceful trees and figures, such as 



JOHN SELL COTMAN 



95 



The Judgment of Midas, which dates from i 824. Cotmaii's own copy of 
the Liber is in the British Museum ; it contains a few unpublished piates. 

The water-colours of this last period are not verv numerous,' but 
some are of large size and ambitious. 

Figures had before this, about 1830, begun to play a larger part 
than hitherto in Cotman's pictures; and some of these later drawings 
are frankly "historical," with a landscape scarcely secondary even. The 
King John and Prince Henry at ^zi-instead Abhey and The Duke of York 
and the Earl of Sund'u.-ich hoisting signals pri'ir to an action with de 




zi (- I f 



7 i ( 



Ruyler, both of 1833, are examples. Mr. Colman's Spruggins Hall is 
also of 1833, and with another drawing, Sir Simon Spruggins, represents 
Cotmans protest against a contemporary satire in which pedigrees and 
armorial bearings were irreverentiv scoffed at. But the one which 
Cotman himself seems most to have set his heart on was a very large 
water-colour — "a whacker" he calls it— rcpresetititig a piece of imaginary 
history — the Presentation of a Rose and Sword to the Lady of the Manor 
at Flixton Hall. This is a splendid failure; charged with colour, a 



ifter which yc; 
average tor fifcci 



Mr. Rogcl [vol. 



in l8j8, four in 1839, 
p. 37) cells us that his 



96 JOHN SELL COTMAN 

festal scene with figures in rich attire, and against the intense blue of 
the sky a magnificent banner luxuriantly unfolding its rosy silk above 
the battlements. The glow, the pomp, the gorgeous unreality of 
romantic art are here. One is reminded of Delacroix. 

This was painted in 1838. Cotman, writing in the ardour of 
creation, says that he will charge sixty guineas for it, perhaps more, if 
it comes well. But it remained unsold till his death. 

Was it reaction from such work as this, cloying with its exotic 
luxury, that in the last few remaining years he turned back to simpler 
methods and a fresher contact with the earth and sky, the sun and wind ? 
Whatever the cause, it is certain that in the sketches of 1839 to 1842 
we find Cotman in a new phase. He returns to nature, intent, as he 
had rarely been before, on seizing the essential spirit of a scene, not 
preoccupied with weaving the matter of his vision into his own schemes 
of form and colour, but submitting his mind to the aspect of things, 
bent on piercing to the heart of them. He works now with the aim 
which was habitual to David Cox. 

Every year in his holidays Cotman visited Norwich. He loved the 
place always. And it was on these visits that the drawings just men- 
tioned were made. One of 1839 ^^ ^^ sketch of a boat upon the Yare, 
the bows leaping a wave ; a delightful sketch of motion. But most 
date from 1841. In the autumn of this year (the last autumn that 
Cotman was to see) he went down to Norfolk in flood-time. He went 
in an impressionable temper. He saw pictures everywhere. His eye 
was alert and his hand active. 

Two wonderfiil sketches. Below Hardley Cross and Below Langley^ 
were made on the same day of October, the 19th. The latter, to 
which Cotman gave also the happy title of The Wold Afloat^ is one of the 
most masterly sketches ever made. It has that intensity of imagination 
which makes the actual means of expression seem to partake of the 
material on which it works. The record is brief, but haunting. The 
listless wetness of the beaten branches, the drooping sedges, the empty 
sky, the blowing wind ; how keenly is it all brought to the senses, as 
with the keenness of physical contact, yet expressed on the gray paper 
with a few black chalk lines. Only less powerful in effect is the 
companion sketch, with its forlorn willows standing chilly in the wind. 



JOHN SELL COTMAN 97 

One day in November Cotnian rode over Mousehold Heath to dine 
with his father at Thorpe. A hailstorm was pouring down, but he was 




" obliged," he says, " to stop and sketch a magnificent scene " — one of 
the same series of sketches. " Oh. rare and beautiful Norfolk," he adds ; 
" but Norfolk is full of such scenes." 



98 JOHN SELL COTMAN 

Another sketch was made at the house at Thorpe ; the place to 
which his father had retired in his old age. It had a garden overhanging 
the Yare with poplars and sloping lawn, to which Cotman in his sketch 
has added peacocks on a terrace. 

This same month he went to Wolterton, to see the famous picture 
of The Rainbow by Rubens. And, strangely, just as he reached the 
house, a rainbow appeared on a retreating storm, and Cotman sketched it 
hanging bright above the woods. Yet another storm-efFect is recorded 
in a sketch at Cromer of this same November ; a most original com- 
position, of the sea spread vast, with huddling white waves to the sky, 
and diminutive watching figures of men upon the shore. 

Some of these sketches were intended by Cotman to be made into 
oil pictures. One such picture, now owned by Mr. Holmes, is from a 
sketch dated December 28. Another was from a drawing of a wood, 
with a great fallen tree. Mr. Reeve possesses the tracing used to transfer 
the composition to canvas, and on it Cotman wrote : " Commenced the 
picture December 17, 1 841 ." But the picture is now unknown, or perhaps 
no longer exists. Lastly, the View from my Father s House at Thorpe 
was transferred to canvas. This unfinished picture, now in the Norwich 
Museum, is dated January 18, 1842. It is interesting, apart from its 
beautiful composition, as it shows Cotman's method of working. The 
design is lightly sketched in black and white over a warm yellow ground. 
It would have been a beautiful picture. 

And this is the last we know of Cotman's painting. The fresh 
impulse to his art of this final autumn was but the last leap of the flame. 
Before the summer was over it was quenched. 

July found Cotman ill. It was no serious disorder, but a mortal 
languor had settled upon him. He had no will to struggle; worn out, 
he desired peace. " If he would only take his prof>er food," wrote his 
daughter to her brother, " he would soon be better. He always 
expresses himself as though he hoped it would be the last time he should 
have to take anything." On the second day after this was written, he 
was dead. ''Natural decay," says the register, was the cause of death ; 
and indeed his spirit had quite worn out his body. He was buried in 
the cemetery behind St. John's Wood Chapel. In the May following 
there was a two-days' sale of his pictures and drawings ; but though there 



loo JOHN SELL COTMAN 

were close on three hundred lots, all went for the miserable amount of 
^219 : 17 : 6. On the 6th, 7th, and 8th of June his prints and library 
were sold, and these fetched ^^307 : 10 : 6. 

There remains to be mentioned the set of eight etchings published at 
Norwich after Cotman's death in 1 846 by Charles Muskett. These are 
interesting as showing Rembrandt's influence, and are very different in 
style from the early etchings. Four are figure studies, one of which 
looks like a study after Terburg ; but the best are The IVindmills^ the 
Beach at Fecampy and the Fishermen at Tarmouth. These, if they had 
but been richly printed, would be effective and successful etchings. 



XI. Characteristics 

Cotman's time has not yet come ; he still awaits his due of fame. 
Many things have hindered the right appreciation of his genius ; but 
chiefly that his work is so little known. AH his finest water-colours are 
in private hands ; hence a widespread misconception of his work, based 
on very insufficient knowledge. According to Redgrave, '' his colour is 
rich, but a hot yellow predominates." One knows the kind of Cotman 
which produces such an impression ; drawings with strong contrasted 
blues and yellows, especially the drawings made after Harriott's sketches. 
But to make such an absolute statement about Cotman's work as a whole 
is ridiculous. Mr. Reeve's collection is the largest and finest that exists, 
and it represents Cotman at every stage of his career ; yet there is scarcely 
a single drawing in the collection which could justify Redgrave's descrip- 
tion. Cotman was, in fact, wonderfully various and versatile. Enough 
has been said already, in recording the successive phases through which he 
^_passed, to indicate the lines of his development. To a certain extent it 
• -^•'Was parallel with that of Turner. But there are difltrences to be noted. 
-'-Cotman's individuality was earlier disengaged. His youthful architectural 
work is less rich in minute observation than Turner's, but freer, broader, 
more personal in style, and with richer harmonies of colour. Cotman 
is at this time more akin to Girtin, though never Girtin's imitator. 
Again, his devotion to composition marks him at a very early stage ; the 
sketching club drawings and several beautiful water-colours of the 



JOHN SELL COTMJN loi 

London period abundantly show it. And all through his life Cotman 
kept up the two strains in his art side by side ; taking refuge often from 
severe labour at patient architectural work in compositions of freest 
fancy and sometimes extravagant colour. These colour-dreams look as 
if inspired by Turner ; yet dates seem to show that Cotman was here the 
earlier in point of time. Cotman's first essavs in these glowing contrasted 
effects d.ite from before 1820. 




But it is not these which represent Cotman at his finest. They are 
the offspring, it seems to me, of his melancholy, luxuriating in a richness 
as of "globed peonies" and "rainbows." They remind one of some of 
Shelley's lyrics ; and indeed, in his untiring and brilliant production, 
without recognition, with scarcely any appreciation, Cotman resembles 
Shelley; "stanzas written in dejection" by the shores of a visionary 
beauty, that haunts the mind but is beyond possession. 

It is rather in such a drawing as Breaking the Clod that Cotman is 



I02 JOHN SELL COTMAN 

seen at his happiest. For here there is no attempt to escaf>e from the 
actual, no revolt; only the distillation of what is loveliest in an actual 
scene, without effort or vehemence, accomplished with the quietness of 
power. It seems, indeed, almost as if the scene had created itself upon 
the paper ; so unconscious, so lost in its subject, has been the working of 
the artist's mind. The drawing, once seen, haunts the memory ; it 
overflows with its own atmosphere ; it is scented with the dawn ; one 
hears the labourer's cry to his team in the early stillness, in the shadow 
of the sleepy elms ; one feels all the charm of the " sacred morning " : 
the Greek epithet suggests itself appropriately before a creation that recalls 
the Greeks in the sanity of its beauty. Whoever sees this drawing must 
think at once of Corot and of Millet, for it combines the dominating 
sentiment of the work of each of them. Yet it was made probably not 
later than 1 8 1 5 ; it belongs to Cotman's earlier work. Slight as it is, in 
an obvious sense, this is a production of high importance. And very 
important also are those wonderful sketches of the last year of Cotman's 
life. The Wold Afloat and its companions, in which, as Mr. Wedmore has 
said, he anticipated the impassioned force of David Cox's later time. 
Cotman's work in oils is, we have seen, inconsiderable compared with the 
rest of his work ; but were he represented at the National Gallery by a 
few pictures equal to the Fishing Boats off Yarmouth^ The Mishaps or 
Mr. Bridgman's After Sunset^ he would be seen to take rank with the 
greatest of our landscape artists. As a water-colour painter he has few 
equals. Turner apart, there is no one in our fine English school, of 
imagination so rare, of achievement so various. 



INDEX 



ACKERMAN, 51 

Arnold, Matthew, 20, 48 

Barker of Bath, 1 3 
Barwell, H. G., 26, 37 
Becchcy, 10-12, 17 
Berney, Mary, 14 
Bemey, Phoebe, 14 
Bridgman, G., 77, 92, 102 
Brooke, Rajah, 38 
Burnet, J., 38 

Callcott, 52 

Callot, 24 

Carpenter, W. H., 16 

Cattermole, 93, 94 

Cholmeley, Francis, 54, 56 

Claude, 24, 45 

Colman, J. J., 18, 37, 56, 78, 86 

Constable, 33, 45 

Coppin, 28 

Cornish, B., 53 

Corot, 102 

Cotman, Dr., 6, 60, 88 

Cotman, Works referred to — 

Abbatial House, Rouen, 78 

Alder Car, 88 

Baggage Waggon, 91 

Below Hard ley Cross, 96 

Below Langley, 96 

Blue Afternoon, 77 

Breaking the Clod, 63, 10 1, 102 

Bridgnorth, 52 

Byland Abbey, 67 

Cader Idris, 64 

Cambridgeshire Antiquities (etchings), 75 

Centaur, 54 

Chateau in Normandy, 76, 77 

Cologne, 79 

Crome, Portrait, 58 

Croyland, 56 

Dewy Eve, 63 

Dieppe, 76 

Draining Mill, Lincolnshire, 63 

Duke of York and the Earl of Sandwich, 95 

Duncombe Park, 58 

Durham Cathedral, 56 

Dutch Boats at Yarmouth, 92 

Etchiogt, 64-75 

Fabise, 76 

Ftthing Boats off Yarmoutii, 68, 86 



Cotman, Works referred to — 

Flixton Manor, 9^ 

Framiingham Castle, 78 

Greta Bridge, 58 

King John at Swinstcad, 95 

Liher Studiorum (etchings), 60, 77, 94 

Mare and Foal, 63 

Mishap, 86, 88, 102 

Mont St. Michel, 78 

Mouschoid Heath, 63 

Norfolk Antiquities (etchings), 67, 75 

Normandy Etchings, 71, 72, 75 

Old House at St. Albans, 77 

Old Houses, Mill Lane, 50 

Post wick Grove, 64 

Sepulchral Brasses (etchings), 68, 75 

Shadowed Stream, 64 

Sir Simon Spruggins, 95 

Sketching Club Compositions, 53 

Spruggins Hall, 95 

Trentham Church, 63 

Twickenham, 58, 60, 63 

View from my Father's House, 98 

View from Yarmouth Bridge, 77, 92, 102 

Waterfall, 68, 88 

Weird Scene — Moonlight, 54 

Wherries on Breydon, 88 

Windmill, 76 

Wold Afloat, 96, 102 

Yarmouth Sands, 94 
Cotman, J. J., 92 
Cotman, M. E., 75, 92 
Cox, David, 94, 96, 102 
Cristall, 52 
Cromc, F., 41 
Crome, J. B., 14, 21 
Crome, M. S., 34 
Cromc, Works referre<l to — 

Avenue at Chapel Fields, 47 

Back of the New Mills, 48 

Blacksmith's Shop, 20, 2 1 

Boulevard des Italiens, 29 

Boulogne, 29, 30 

Boy keeping Sheep, 33 

Carrow Abbey, 18 

Compotition in style of Wilson, 20 

Cow Tower, 20 

Dawn, 47 

Etchings, 24-26 

Grove Scene, 37 

Grove Scene at Marlingford, 30 

Mousehold Heath, 30, 33, 46, 47